Unemployment Benefits After Separating from the Military

Did you know that many military veterans are eligible to receive unemployment benefits when they separate from the military?

Transitioning from a military career to a civilian career is a big step. Not all jobs transfer over from the military and it can be difficult for civilians to understand how much military members bring to the table in terms of experience, leadership and many other attributes. It is not uncommon for military members to struggle when seeking civilian employment.

Thankfully, there are benefits that can help you bridge the gap between military and civilian careers. Service members who are no longer active in the military have the same unemployment benefit options available to them as other Americans. I applied for unemployment benefits when I separated from the military, and I encourage you to do the same if you are eligible.

Unemployment benefits for military veterans

Unemployment compensation may be available to ex-military personnel.  If eligible, military members will receive compensation from the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-service members (UCX).  This program is run by the federal government, but each state has their own agents representing the UCX.  Whether or not  you are eligible and how much compensation you will receive depends on several factors.  If you receive other compensation (separation pay, retirement pay) the amount of compensation for which you may be eligible will be reduced.  Here we look at how you can go about signing up for unemployment compensation and what you can do before separation to get your finances in order.

Signing up for unemployment benefits

Since each state is in charge of unemployment benefits paid out to residents of the state, this is the starting point for signing up for compensation.  The state unemployment office will be able to determine if you are eligible to receive benefits, how long you can receive benefits and how much compensation you will receive.  You must apply through the state employment office which will also help you in your search for new employment.  When visiting the state employment office to inquire about benefits be sure to have the following documents on hand; job history or resume, Social Security Card and DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty).

A couple quick notes about military unemployment benefits:

  • Federal law requires that you are physically in the state in which you file your first claim based on military wages. You can file in the state in which you separate from the military, but you may need to transfer your unemployment benefits if you move to another state (be sure to check with the employment bureau in the state where you move).
  • Unemployment benefits for former military members is usually based on military service wages, however, separation pay or military retirement pay may affect your benefits.
  • In most cases, you must have been separated under honorable conditions to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Each state may have unique rules or provisions. Check with your state employment office for specific information.

New GI Bill Program for Unemployed Military Veterans

If you are an unemployed veteran, you may be eligible for a new GI Bill program specifically designed for unemployed veterans age 35-60.  The good news is this program is open to eligible veterans regardless of whether or not they still have remaining GI Bill eligibility (MGIB benefits typically expire 10 years after a veteran’s separation date).

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 was recently passed, which offers up to 12 months of education and training at the full-time active duty Montgomery GI Bill rate. Training is available to eligible veterans for VA Approved education and training programs at a community college or technical school. Benefits must be used toward an Associate’s Degree, qualified certification, or a non-college degree in a high demand field (examples include, information technology, trucking, certain medical occupations, and more).

Visit the GI Bill for unemployed veterans page on our site to learn more about eligibility, and how to apply.

Prepare your finances before separation from the military

A well padded emergency fund can provide the financial security necessary during a time of transition from one job to another.  Service members who are planning to transition from military to civilian status should plan on saving as much money as they can to help bridge any gaps in employment. It took me about 4 months to find a job when I made the transition from the military to civilian workforce, but your results may vary depending on the economy where you separate, your skills, and other factors. Unemployment benefits helped, but I was also single and had few expenses. If you have a family and more expenses, then you will need a larger nest egg to help you through this transition.

Having enough money to cover several months worth of living expenses will offer some peace of mind until you are able to secure your next job. Consider saving your money in a high interest savings account which will offer a decent interest rate while still providing access to your money.

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Date published: August 23, 2010. Last updated: January 16, 2012.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. Consuelo says

    My husband has/is medically retired from the Army with 19 years of service. We were stationed at Fort Leonard Wood Mo. I was employed at the hospital on post and tried to transfer my position to our new home NC. Which is my husbands hone of record …I was unsuccessful in finding a job and was told I was not eligible for the priority placement program because my husband is “retiring”. 1 he was forced to retire. 2 Missouri is not our original home and 3. I was denied unemployment benefits because UC said I quit my job for a good personal reason and not because of my employer…well I went to my civilian personnel office they would help, I applied for jobs and was denied because some one who had priority over me was given the job. I worked for the goverment for 4 years and basically they are saying well you have to stay in Missouri that I left my job on my own. This is not true I’m trying to appeal this now and actively looking for work . I am by no means looking for a hand out but an opportunity to get benefits I feel I earned and deserved I served my time with my husband supporting him and the military for 3 deployments and furloughs this past year only to be told no we can’t help you. What can I do they said I can’t get legal aid In Missouri and I’m really scared about my finances we have a daughter in college and 2 small children. How are my odds of winning this appeal and do I have a good enough reason.

    • says

      Conseulo, Thank you for contacting me. This is a tricky situation, since every state has different rules regarding unemployment benefits. There is a provision in 44 states that allows military spouses to collect unemployment benefits if they had to move due to a PCS. Both Missouri and North Carolina are on the list, which can be found here.

      However, your situation is a retirement, not a PCS. So I’m not sure if this will apply. My recommendation is to try this under a PCS move and see if they will allow you to claim unemployment benefits. You would file this claim with the state where you were previously employed. Best of luck!

  2. Stanley Wilson says

    Question . Can you start the unemployment benefits right before you get out ? For housing and bill purposes . So its not like I’m waiting months for a check ?

    • says


      Stanley, Unfortunately, there is no way to start the process early. You must follow the rules for the particular state in which you file, and all states that I am aware of require you to wait at least one week after the point you become unemployed before you can file for unemployment benefits.

      The best thing to do is plan your finances accordingly, and save a little money so you are prepared to fund your basic living expenses until you can begin receiving unemployment benefits until you find a job and begin earning a paycheck.

  3. Kris says

    I am seperating, but going to palace front to the AF Reserves. Will I still be eligible for unemployment benefits?

    • says

      Kris, You should be eligible, however, you may have reduced payments after drill weekends or during or after training. Unemployment benefits are based on the amount of work you perform in any given week. So if you don’t work at all in a given week, you would receive full unemployment benefits. If you only work the traditional one weekend a month, two weeks a year, you would receive your unemployment benefits while you aren’t working. Then you would have to deduct your drill pay or annual training pay the next time you claim unemployment benefits. When you go back to not working after your drill, you should be able to resume your full unemployment pay. Best of luck in your job search, and thank you for your service!

  4. bret t says

    I am getting out of the navy after 5 years of service and I am wondering a few things. I am married and I would like to go to school, is there a way I can go to school receive unemployment and still have e5 bah?

    • says

      Brett, If you use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you should be able to go to school and receive the BAH. The unemployment benefits are usually contingent upon you seeking work. In some cases you can receive unemployment benefits while attending school (I know several people who have done it, but I’ve heard other responses from other people). So this is a question you should ask the state where you file unemployment benefits. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  5. HENRY H. says

    In response to Consuelo’s post on June 9, 2014:
    I recently retired from the Navy after 24 years and found a job in Atlanta, so we relocated from my last duty station in Florida. My wife tried to claim unemployment was told that since this was not a PCS move, she is disqualified. I did some research and found in the Navy’s Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN) that “separations from the service under honorable conditions (retirements, discharges, resignations) are considered PCS moves.” I don’t know if the Army has a manual or directive(s) that are similar but I would think if the Navy has one, then the other branches should too. We are in the process of submitting an appeal to their original decision and will keep you posted on the outcome.

  6. Hunter says

    Hello Ryan, I have a question that I’ve tried to research. When sites day you can be eligible of you were seperated under honorable conditions, does that mean just honorable or also does it include under honorable conditions also? I’m sure you know the difference Im just not sure about them.

    • says

      Hunter, I believe you should be able to claim unemployment benefits with the discharge you received because you were discharged under honorable conditions. You will need to contact the state where you plan on filing for benefits to verify. But you should be good to go.

  7. Aaron says

    Hello Ryan,

    I see you have served 6 years in the USAF and are now currently serving in the Illinois ANG. That’s cool I deployed with those guys this year back in Jan-May. Anyway I have Separated from The Air Force this past September and have been going to school on Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Could I also receive unemployments benefits? I see you said that you’ve known other people who have done it. Did they get the full unemployment? Or was it factored in with there GI Bill? And how long were they on unemployment insurance?

    • says

      Aaron, Thanks for contacting me. Yes, I have known some people who were able to file for and receive unemployment benefits while attending college on the GI Bill. However, I believe eligibility for this depends on which state you file unemployment benefits in. So you would need to speak with the unemployment benefits office where you file.

      The people I knew were able to receive full unemployment benefits, but I”m not sure how long they received he benefits. Each state has different rules, so there are a lot of variables in play. I hope this helps. Thanks for your service, and best of luck with your transition!

  8. Jon Rogers says

    Hello Ryan
    I have a question about whether I qualify for unemployment. I finished my basic training and “A” school back in August and ever since I been in Navy Reserve. I been attending once a month drill weekend since November. I am currently unemployed and going to school. However, I did work part-time at a bank for a week and got a paycheck since I been in Reserve. My question is do you think I will still be qualified to recieve unemployment benefits because I briefly worked a bank? I appreciate your answer

    • says

      Hello Jon, You will need to contact your state employment bureau for a specific answer, since each state has slightly different rules. I do know that some members of the Guard or Reserves are able to collect unemployment benefits, however, they must also report their Drill Pay in the week they earn it, which may make them only eligible for a reduced unemployment benefit. This is a situation where you will most likely need to visit an office and sit down with someone who really knows the system (I would try to avoid a phone call on this one, as it’s too easy to pawn off a phone call). Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  9. Jay says

    I have a question. I have been discharged overseas after serving for 12 years. I have not been in the stateside for almost a year and I’m due to return back before March. I was seperated back in May 2014. My question is am I still eligible for unemployment compensation once i get back stateside and how will it affect my housing stipend once I start receiving it through my Post 9/11 G I Bill?

    • says

      Jay, Based on my understanding, yes, you should be eligible for unemployment benefits. You were still the resident of a US state even though you were stationed overseas, and you were paying into the unemployment insurance program. You should file for unemployment benefits in the state you move to when you return to the US. I’m not aware of unemployment benefits affecting the housing stipend of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

  10. Mary says

    Hi Ryan,
    I am going to ETS this May, and begin college in August using my Post 9-11 GI Bill. My question is, can I recieve unemployment only for the period of time between when I ETS and when I start school? I don’t fancy trying to get a job for only three months, and I do not plan to work at all while I am in school so I can focus on my grades. Thank you!

    • says

      Mary, Based on my understanding, yes, you can file for unemployment benefits during that time frame. However, most states require you to prove you are currently seeking work, so you may have to show that you are seeking work that is comparable to what you did in the past. You might also be able to receive unemployment benefits while attending school on the GI Bill, but some states vary as to whether or not they allow that. Best of luck with your transition, and thank you for your service!

  11. Dustin Edwards says


    My question is brief. I am at a transition point in the army and thinking about ETSing. Currently I am stationed in Germany and want to settle in Florida. I will meet all eligibility requirements if I ETS. Is there somewhere to look up and find at least an estimate of unemployment pay rates in ANY of the states. I am very interested in using this system while actively seeking a job with some local DOJ agencies in the Jacksonville area. However, if the pay is something like $200 a week thats not something I can really count on….Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Dustin, the best way to find out the maximum unemployment benefits rate per state is to search in Google or another search engine: “State name + florida unemployment benefit rates”. A quick search brought up several returns – some that listed the state unemployment rate, and some that listed the rates for all states. Florida’s maximum unemployment benefit rate is $275 per week, or $1,100 per month. That is lower than many other states, but not the lowest. It’s a good idea to have a little money saved up if you plan on transitioning out of the military.

      I recommend trying to have a couple month’s worth of expenses saved if possible. If you are nearing your ETS and don’t have time to save that much, you can also consider trying to extend your contract or reenlist for a year or so, which will give you some more time to save money. Not all branches will let you extend for a short time frame, unless it is in the best interest of the military, so you may only be able to reenlist for a full term. If that is the case, then you will need to take your time to consider your long-term goals and decide your next courses of action. I hope this helps. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  12. Sebastian says

    If I got married AFTER completing my military contract and have the Montgomery GI Bill not the Post 911, will I start receiving BAH when I enroll in College now that I’m a married veteran?

    • says

      Sebastian, Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately, the BAH benefit is only available with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It is not available for those using the MGIB, regardless of marital status. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Best of luck with your studies, and thank you for your service!

    • says

      Sebastian, Yes, you can change to the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you are eligible for the program. You would be eligible if you served after September 10, 2001. To receive the full benefits, you would need to have served a full 3 years on active duty, unless you separated due to a service-connected disability. It’s easy to change your status from one program to the other. Simply call the VA and request to change from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. They can do it for you over the phone (it’s super easy). The only thing to be aware of is that you cannot change back to the MGIB once you make the switch. Good luck, and thanks for your service!

    • says

      Natalie, unemployment benefits are not usually available to those who are receiving a military pension. I would contact your state employment agency to verify. If unemployment benefits are not available, you may wish to look into certain VA benefits or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

  13. Jonathan says

    Mr. Guina, thank you for serving. I received an Honorable discharge after a chapter 13 APFT failure with eight months total of active duty service. I was denied unemployment benefits for “insufficient military service”. I understand each state has different requirements but does this sound right in regards to UCX requirements?

    • says

      Hi Jonathan. To be honest, I’m not sure what the requirements are. The DoD website only states that unemployment benefits vary by state. The Department of Labor has similar information. I recommend speaking with a veteran’s advocate to see what can be done. Most counties have a Veterans Affairs office where you can seek assistance. You can also show proof of work you had prior to your military service, if you were employed prior to enlisting. I hope this gets you pointed in the right direction. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  14. James says

    Mr. Guina, After 13 years of active duty service I took advantage of a Voluntary Separation Bonus from the Marine Corps due to force shaping requirements. I applied for unemployment in my home state of Kansas and was granted the maximum payment. Roughly 3 months later I was contacted and notified that my benefits were canceled and that I have to pay it back ($6700). My separations payment was considered wages, taxed and then paid out in a lump sum on my final paycheck from the Marine Corps. Should I appeal their decision? It doesn’t make sense to me. I was unemployed, not receiving any monthly payments, and it shouldn’t matter what was in my checking account. Need help.

    • says

      James, Thank you for contacting me. I’ve never heard of this, but each state has a different set of rules. I would most definitely look into this, and fight it if possible. I would start by contacting your local unemployment agency and ask them for the regulation that shows this rule. I would also meet with your county Veterans Affairs representative to see if they have further information about this rule, or how to fight it. Most counties have a VA office, and they are there to represent you. If that doesn’t work, I would reach out to a different Veterans Service Organization, such as the VA, DAV, VFW, etc. I hope this helps. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

      • Corwin says

        James & Ryan:

        I’m also in Kansas, separating, though unfortunately mine is not voluntary. It is, however, an honorable separation, and we were told up and down the block in TAP that we were all eligible for unemployment benefits here in Kansas. However, I have spoken to one of my friends that went through the same thing in November of last year, and she stated that the state of Kansas essentially adds up all of your potential unemployment pay, then subtracts out your separation pay (pre-tax). If that number exceeds your total unemployment benefits, you receive nothing. I have not verified this yet, but you can bet I’m going to, because I’m also filing for unemployment and a lay-off is a lay-off in my book. Not to mention USAF rigs the books, and your sep pay actually includes half of your last paycheck, thereby inflating the value that you seem to be receiving.

        I will keep you both abreast of what I discover. I’d ask that you do the same for me.

        Ryan, I actually think you may work with one of my friends up there. If you know a Panier, please give him a shout. Good guy.

  15. Todd Young says

    I am being medically retired from the Navy I have a rating of 50% DOD and 100% from the VA I was wondering if I am able to collect unemployment in addition to collecting my VA check while I am using my post 9/11 GI Bill if I am constantly looking for employment ?

    • says

      Todd, Unemployment benefits regulations vary by state. The disability rating and compensation shouldn’t be an issue, however, receiving retirement pay would almost certainly prevent you from receiving unemployment benefits. So it depends on how your compensation is labeled. Regarding unemployment benefits and the GI Bill – some states allow it, while other states do not.

  16. KITTEN says

    On a serious note, thank you for all this helpful information for veterans Mr. Guina. I had the same question as someone here and you answered it. It is hard to find a knowledgeable person in this area. Though I don’t plan to remain unemployed for too long, I could use a bit of tax money that I’ve paid over the course of 10 years. I don’t think its asking too too much.

    Best, Kitten

  17. Robertjro says

    I am being medically seperated from the army after five years of service. I am receiving a separation check of about 25k how will that effect my unemployment options and opportunities?

    Also I will be attending collage soon and receiving BAH will that prevent me from receiving unemployment?

    • says

      Robertjro, Thank you for contacting me. I haven’t heard of medical separation payments affecting unemployment benefits, but each state has different rules, so you may wish to check with your state. I’ve known some people to use either the MGIB or the Post-9/11 GI Bill and collect unemployment benefits. But I’m not sure this can be done in all states. Again, you will need to check with the state in which you file for benefits. Sorry I don’t have any firm answers for you, but the rules vary so much and change frequently enough that I don’t want to give you the wrong information.

  18. Jose Ramos says

    Im seperating in the end of June and will be going to my home state. But I plan on moving to a different state in August. How soon can I apply for unemployment?

    • says

      Jose, You can generally apply as soon as you are completely separated from active duty (I.e. not on terminal leave). Some states may make you wait one full week before you are eligible to claim benefits. Also note that you may be ineligible to receive benefits if you receive separation pay or retirement pay. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  19. says

    I was in the Army from 06/2001 to 06/2005. Since I have been out I have been from job to job. I worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 2 years and was let go. Collected unemployment and then found another job as a truck driver. I have been truck driving for 2 years and recently found out that I might get fired.

    My question is can I collect unemployment under the Ex-Service Members (UCX) even though I have been out for 10 years?

    I do qualify under the regulations for EDD California. I could not find anything restricting me from not applying.

    Thank you. BTW this is a GREAT site! :)

    • says

      Johnny, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t know what the rules are for when you have to collect the unemployment benefits, but I believe it has to be soon after you separate from the military. The best I can tell you is to contact the employment agency in your state of residence to ask them about the rules and if you will be eligible. Each state has slightly different guidelines, so that will be the deciding factor. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service.

  20. Jeff says

    Hi Ryan,
    I recently retired from the Navy Reserves after 24 years of combined active and reserve service. I’ve been substitute teaching the last couple of years, so I drilled more than the minimum and met the income requirement for California unemployment benefits just through my Reserve wages. (Substitute teachers aren’t eligible for UI in CA) Can I claim unemployment benefits through UCX for my reserve service? CA says I need a DD-214, which aren’t normally issued to reservists.

    • says

      Jeff, Thank you for contacting me. I would think you might be able to if you are not yet able to draw your pension. You would likely need some other form of documentation from your Reserve unit showing you served, including the dates and amounts earned. Unfortunately, I don’t know the specific rules for the state of CA, or which forms might be sufficient. I recommend contacting the employment office and asking which forms would be required to file a claim. This may not be a common situation, and many civilians may not be familiar with military terminology or forms, so it might take some leg work.

      Also – if you mention that you retired from the military, be sure to tell them you are not currently receiving a pension, because most states will not pay unemployment benefits if you are drawing a pension. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  21. Sasha says

    I have a tricky situation that I was wondering if you could shed some light on. I got out this past May after serving 5 years in the military. My home of record was South Carolina. I got married while serving and my husbands home of record is California which is also where I separated from the military. He is currently stationed in Guam. Which state should I file unemployment with?

    • says

      Sasha, Thank you for contacting me. You normally file unemployment in the state where you are currently living. I’m not sure how the process works if you are filing while you are out of the country (for example, if you are filing while living in Guam). If you are filing from Guam, I would likely try filing in CA, if that is the last state where you worked. This is not the most common situation, so you may have to work the phones to find someone who understands how the process works if you try to file their when you aren’t living there.

  22. Ashley Smith says


    I’m currently in the process of separating the military after 10 years of active duty. Just wondering what all is counted when figuring out the wages earned. Is it just going to go off of what my base pay was? Or will they include my BAH and BAS? Thanks so much!

    • says

      Ashley, BAH ans BAS are not generally considered when calculating wages. In most cases, only the base pay will be used. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

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