National Guard and Reserve Early Retirement Age

Even if you’re not eligible for full Reserve retirement benefits, you may be able to receive Reserve retirement pay before age 60 if you have been activated to qualifying active duty.
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Members of the Reserve Component (RC) generally become eligible to receive retirement benefits after they have completed 20 years of qualifying service and reach age 60. 

For many committed reservists who enlist at a young age, completing the 20 years is no problem, but the downside is waiting 10-15 years to claim their monthly pension payments. 

If you’ve completed your mandatory years of service but are not yet old enough to fully retire, it’s possible that you could still receive your military retirement pay before you become eligible for complete benefits. 

Let’s discuss how as a Reserves and National Guard servicemember, you can fully utilize the option for a reduced retirement age. 

Does active duty time reduce Guard and Reserve retirement age?

Primarily, Reserve and Guard members can reduce their retirement age by accumulating time spent activated, also known as on active duty. However, Reserve and Guard early retirement pertains specifically to retirement pay.

How Guard and Reserve Early Retirement Works

Under the most recent terms of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), members of the RC who served at least 90 days under a qualifying active-duty service mobilization are authorized to retire three months early for each 90-day period they served, but you cannot reduce your retirement age below 50. 

For example, if an RC member was activated for 90 days of qualifying active duty, they could retire three months early. If they were activated for 180 days of qualifying active duty, they could retire six months early. 

Currently, these qualifying days can cross into consecutive fiscal years, but this only applies to activations on 01 October 2014 (or fiscal year (FY)15) and later. A fiscal year is a period of 12-months outside of the regular calendar year that businesses and governments use for accounting and budgeting purposes. 

Before FY15, 90-day periods had to be completed within the same fiscal year to be eligible for a reduction. 

With that in mind, the rules surrounding qualifying service for early RC retirement differs depending on the time period that you were on active duty:

  • If you were activated between Jan. 28, 2008 – Sep. 30, 2014, you must serve 90 days on active duty within a fiscal year.
  • If you were activated between Oct. 1, 2014 – present, you must serve 90 days on active duty and your service time can cross into consecutive fiscal years.

Here’s how your days of qualifying active duty service after FY15 can reduce your retirement age:

Days of Qualifying ServiceRetirement Age Reduced by*
90 days3 months
180 days6 months
270 days9 months
360 days1 year
450 days1 year and 3 months

*Remember that the Reserve retirement eligibility age cannot be lowered below 50 years old. 

Qualifying Service

Qualifying active service can be divided into two groups depending on when you served:

  • Starting Jan. 28, 2008: Only Reserve members activated on a deployment in support of overseas operations, such as the Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns, could count days towards early retirement. 
  • Starting Jan. 2013: National emergencies, including natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, etc., begin counting as qualifying service. 

Members of the RCs are also eligible to retire early if they were in a Warrior Transition Unit and were injured while mobilized for responses, as mentioned above.

Under the current guidelines, most active duty activations count for Reserve early retirement, including deployments in support of overseas operations, support for natural emergencies which are authorized by the governor and paid for by federal funds, as well as active duty training and attending military schools. 

Non-Qualifying Service

However, not all service counts toward Reserve early retirement. Guard or Reserve duty that cannot count towards early retirement includes:

  • Weekend drills
  • Two-week annual training
  • Full-time AGR or TAR status
  • Muster duty
  • Activation for courts – martial or disciplinary reasons
  • Not participating at a satisfactory level

Additionally, you must have already been a member of the Guard or Reserves when you were activated for 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.

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Keep Good Records of Your Service

It’s up to RC members to be aware of how much qualifying service they completed and to file for early retirement. In these instances, you 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. Your DD Form 214 is issued when you are released from active duty service. This is different from DD Form 256, which is the Honorable Discharge paperwork you receive when you separate from the Guard or Reserves.

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. Check out our article on requesting military records for more assistance.

Early Reserve Retirement vs. Gray Area Retirement 

You may have seen Reserve early retirement and gray area retirement used in similar conversations, but they don’t mean the same thing. 

Reserve early retirement refers to RC members’ ability to reduce the age at which they can officially retire through active duty service. However, gray area retirees are those who completed 20 years of qualifying service and retired from service but aren’t old enough to receive their pension. 

To put it another way, some RC members may be eligible for both gray area retirement and Reserve early retirement. However, not all of them elect to leave the force to become a gray area retiree before they are eligible to receive all Reserve retirement benefits.


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You Can Retire Early from the Guard and Reserves

Reserve early retirement rewards RC members for their qualifying active duty service. Along with early receipt of their retirement pay, those who retire early will be eligible for other core benefits like Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), exchange and base. 

You may also continue your Tricare coverage with Tricare Retired Reserve (TRR). TRR provides comprehensive health insurance to retired RC members, but it is more expensive than other Tricare plans. Check out the following articles for more information about health insurance options for retired Guard and Reserve:


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  1. Victor H Harris says

    The HQ of the South Carolina Guard (G1/HR) would have to address this. You do not need the actual unit because according to the narrative you wrote there is no question on his time served. When someone has reached 20 eligible years they receive their 20 yr letter. It does not show up years down the line. So your uncle has never reached 20 yrs. Reach out to the HQ G1 or even the Inspector general for assistance. At this point you are asking for an exception. Not a correction or injustice. Your Uncle made a bad mistake by not waiting for for his 20 year letter. Most people with 20 years of service know better than to leave before you are sure you have paperwork in hand. The ABCMR will not act on it until the command (SCARNG) has had the opportunity to address the issue. Good luck.

  2. Ray Stargel says

    If the early retirement (drop program) is going by the government fiscal year which is October to October and the bill passed for this effective date is Jan 28, 2008, does that mean the qualifying service starts October 1, 2007, (beginning of the fiscal year) moving forward or the qualifying service starts on Jan 28, 2008, which is not the beginning of the fiscal year.

    The reason I am asking is I deployed several times since 2001 both to Iraq and Afghanistan, the only deployment in my case that falls under the drop program (early retirement) was from September 2007 to December 2008 but if they are only going to count after Jan 28, 2008, that cuts down on when my retirement takes effect.

    In all the research I have read on the drop program they reference the fiscal year for the program but there is no clarification if they mean October 1, 2007, since that is the start of the fiscal year, or they are going by when the bill was signed Jan 28, 2008. which approximately four months into the fiscal year.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Ray, this is quoted from the article, “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.”

      It appears you will get early retirement credit for part of your deployment but not for the time served before January 28, 2008.

  3. Amanda says

    What is the rationale for not covering the OIF I – OIF IV (all prior to 2008)? I served, boots on ground, in Kuwait/Iraq from DEC 2004 to JAN 2006. As I understand, does none of this time count toward early retirement?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Amanda, the effective date is the date the law was passed. Not making the law retroactive to September 1, 2001, was likely a way to limit the financial impact of the law. The Reserve Component was utilized heavily after September 11th. Choosing the date in 2008 significantly reduces the number of eligible retirees and the amount of financial commitment.

  4. Bob Stephenson says

    This site is misleading. Why can’t I access a simple calculator? All I want to do is enter 1) Rank retired at 2) Total Points 3) Sat years, and get an estimate of what my retired pay will be when I turn 60. All of the “sponsored” links just produce another search engine result under the general topic of retirement income.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Bob, this article is about how National Guard and Reserve members can qualify for early retirement age. This is not a calculator for military retirement benefits. The calculation is not as simple as it appears on the surface and will depend on the servicemember’s retirement rank, their total number of points, and other factors. I recommend researching a specific retirement calculator to help you find the answers to your query.

      Best wishes.

  5. Larry says

    Ryan,

    I’m attempting to apply for the program of reduced age retirement. The issue is that I’m a IMA/Reservist and don’t have a orderly room to ask these questions. Can you send me the Reduced retired pay age application? Or tell me the form number. I’m 57 now and have about 2 and half years of qualify time. Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

    Larry

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Larry, I don’t have a copy of the reduced age application. You will need to work with your branch of service’s main personnel or HR office (Army HRC, AFPC, BUPERS, etc.). They should be able to help you apply for your military retirement benefits. I hope this points you in the right direction. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

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