Members of the National Guard, Air National Guard and military Reserves who have met the 20 year service requirement are generally eligible for receiving retirement benefits at age 60. However, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act authorized early retirement benefits for members of the Reserve Corps who met certain criteria. This only applies to starting retirement pay early. Other benefits still begin at age 60, including access to the commissary or base exchange, and TRICARE benefits eligibility.
Under the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, members of the Reserve Component who served at least 90 days during a fiscal year on a deployment in support of overseas operations such as the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns are authorized to retire three months early for each 90 day period they served in any given fiscal year. This only applies to members of the Guard or Reserves who participated in a qualifying active-duty mobilization after Jan. 28, 2008, which is the date the Act was signed into law. Service on or before this date does not count toward early retirement.
In January 2013, Congress expanded the criteria for early retirement by authorizing additional eligibility requirements. The new rules allow members of the Guard or Reserves to count activations for national emergencies including natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc. Members of the Reserve Components may also be eligible to retire early if they were in a Warrior Transition unit and were injured while mobilized for responses as mentioned above.
Early Retirement from the Guard and Reserves
How early retirement works. A member must serve a full 20 year service obligation before being eligible to retire from the National Guard or Reserves. They would then be eligible to begin receiving retirement benefits at age 60, including pay, medical benefits, and base entitlements such as commissary and base exchange privileges.
To be eligible for early retirement, a member of the Reserve Corps must still complete the 20 year service requirement. They must also serve at least 90 days during a given fiscal year in support of an authorized event to be eligible for early retirement. Members are only authorized one 90 day period per fiscal year. For example, a year-long deployment that stats and ends in a fiscal year can only help you retire 90 days early, not 360 days early. The entire 90 days must also be served during the fiscal year. If you served 90 days, but part of your mobilization was before the fiscal year end and part was during the new fiscal year, then the 90 day mobilization wouldn’t help you retire early.
The good news is that your mobilization doesn’t need to be continuous. If you served 30 days at the beginning of the fiscal year, and 60 days at the end of the fiscal year, you would meet the requirements, so long as all 90 days were served within the fiscal year. Many Guard and Reserve members are often mobilized for short time frames, including 15 or 30 day rotations. You can add all of these together to meet the 90 day requirement, so long as they all fall withing the same fiscal year. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then be sure to keep good track of your mobilization dates so you know whether or not your mobilizations will help you qualify for early retirement.
90 Early Retirement Periods are Cumulative. Servicemembers can qualify for more than one 90 day early retirement period, again, as long as they are served within different fiscal years. For example, someone who served 90+ days in FY 2009, 90+ days in FY 2010, and 90+ days in FY 2011, and 90+ days in FY 2012 would be eligible to retire at age 59 (four three month periods, or 1 year early). The only rule for the cumulative early retirement benefit is that members cannot retire before age 50.
Qualifying and Non-Qualifying Service for Early Retirement
Most active duty time counts for early retirement, including deployments in support of overseas operations, mobilizations for natural emergencies which are authorized by the governor and paid for by federal funds, and other active duty service including training and attending military schools. However, not all service counts toward early retirement.
You must have been a member of the Guard or Reserves when you were activated for the qualifying service. Members who originally joined the service as active duty then later transitioned to the Guard or Reserves are not able to count their previous active duty service toward early retirement. Other ineligible Guard or Reserve duty includes actions such as performing weekend drills, 2 weeks annual training, those in full-time AGR or TAR status, muster duty, those who were activated for courts-martial or disciplinary reasons, and those who were listed as not participating at a satisfactory level.
Meeting Eligibility Requirements is Only Part of the Battle
It’s up to the member to be aware of these changes, and file for early retirement. In these instances, you will need to have proof of your activation, including the reason and the duration of time you were activated. This is where your mobilization orders and DD Form 214 are essential. As you know, your DD Form 214 is issued when you are released from active duty service. This is a different form than your DD Form 256, which is the Honorable Discharge paperwork you receive when you separate from the Guard or Reserves.
Keep good records of your service. Your mobilization orders should state the reason for your mobilization or activation, as will your DD Form 214. In order to qualify for the early retirement under the new rules, you will need to have either Title 10 or Title 32 orders with the following annotation: 12301(a), 12301(d), 12301(h), 12302, 12304, 12305 or 12306.
Because much of this is up to you filing the required paperwork on time, you need to keep excellent records. If you notice discrepancies in your paperwork, contact your unit immediately to have your records corrected. If you have since left your unit and are no longer serving, you may need to contact the National Archives. We have an article on requesting military records.
Early Retirement is For Pay; Other Benefits Come at Age 60
While your deployments can start the clock earlier for your retirement pay and benefits such as access to the commissary or base exchange, early retirees will have to wait until age 60 to be eligible for TRICARE benefits.