Reader Question: Can I Get Partial Military Retirement Pay or Benefits?

Can a military veteran receive partial military retirement pay or other benefits with less than 20 years of service? The answer may surprise you.
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Partial Military retirement pay

Can you receive a partial military pension?

The military retirement benefits are one of the best retirement plans around – with a pension starting after serving 20 years, and extremely low-cost medical benefits for life. These benefits are well deserved, and the least we can do is to thank our veterans for their years of dedication and service. Though a military retirement may or may not pay enough to live on without taking another job, it is easy to value a military pension at over one million dollars over the average duration of retirement.

In addition to the honor of serving our country, these generous military retirement benefits entice many military members to forgo possible higher pay in the civilian world and remain in military service long enough to earn a military retirement.

But what happens if you don’t stick around long enough to earn the standard retirement? can you earn a partial military retirement?

Table of Contents
  1. Can I Get Partial Military Retirement Pay?
  2. Other Pay or Benefits You Can Earn from Prior Military Service
    1. Retire Under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA)
    2. Receive Separation Pay
    3. Join the Guard or Reserves and Continue Until Retirement
    4. Upgrade Your Discharge
    5. File a Disability Claim
    6. Other VA Benefits
  3. Best Option for You?

Can I Get Partial Military Retirement Pay?

I received a reader question this week:

Hi Ryan,

Let’s say an Individual put in 15 years active duty, then separated from the Army at his own request with a less than Honorable Discharge.  What would his entitlements be for the time he served in on Active Duty? Is he entitled to Partial Retirement Pay?  Or does he have to put in the 20 years to receive retirement pay?


Veteran, US Army

Hello A.T. – Thanks for your service to our country. I understand where you are coming from. Serving 15 years is mighty close to the magic number 20, and it seems like a waste to have that many years of service but no retirement pension or other retirement benefits to show for it.

Unfortunately, in most cases, one needs to serve 20 years to qualify for military retirement pay and benefits, except in some cases, such as disability or an allowable early retirement due to the needs of the military.

Other Pay or Benefits You Can Earn from Prior Military Service

Here are some other situations in which someone may be eligible for retirement pay or other military benefits:

Retire Under the Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA)

TERA is an early retirement plan that Congress authorizes each branch to use when they need to reduce the size of their force. It is usually only used when the military is downsizing. Eligible servicemembers can retire with full benefits and a reduced pension if they served at least 15 years, but less than 20. However, this plan is not open to all servicemembers, all branches, or all career fields. The services use this to selectively reduce the size of their end force. You must apply for and be approved to retire under TERA. Here is a guide that explains TERA in more detail.

Receive Separation Pay

Some service members who are involuntarily separated are eligible to receive involuntary separation pay. This is typically available to those who have a minimum of 6 years of service, but less than 20. There are often other conditions that need to be met as well.

Separation pay is calculated at a rate of “10% of your annual base pay, multiplied by the number of years you served.” You would include months served at 1/12 of a year when running the calculation. Here is a guide for determining involuntary separation pay and benefits.

In the example you gave, this was a voluntary separation, so the person may be ineligible for separation pay. If in doubt, contact your personnel department or finance department for more information. If the separation has already occurred, then it may be too late for a benefit such as this.

Join the Guard or Reserves and Continue Until Retirement

Your 15 years will count toward retirement through the Guard or Reserves. You would then need to complete five more years of good service before you would be eligible for retirement pay. Keep in mind that you will not be eligible to receive retirement pay until age 60, unless you are eligible to retire from the Reserves early.

There are other benefits for joining the Guard or Reserves, including pay, access to inexpensive health insurance for you and your family, training, education, and much more. While the retirement benefits from serving in the Guard or Reserves aren’t quite the same as an active duty retirement, they are still incredibly valuable, especially once the health care benefits and retirement pay kick in at age 60.

However, it may be difficult to join the Guard or Reserves depending on your discharge code, and if you do not receive a favorable reenlistment code when you separate from the service.

If you are interested in considering this option, then contact a recruiter at your local Guard unit, or contact a Reserve recruiter. Here is more information about joining the Army Reserves.

Upgrade Your Discharge

This isn’t always easy to do, especially if you voluntarily leave the service due to some negative action on your part. However, there are times when you can get your discharge upgraded. Doing this may help you in you be eligible for certain civilian jobs, particularly with state and federal government jobs. Additionally, a better discharge may make you eligible to join the Guard or Reserves if you decide that is an option for you. Here is more info on upgrading a military discharge.

File a Disability Claim

Assuming you have a qualifying disability and it gets approved, you may receive a monthly disability compensation check and possibly health care benefits as a result of your disability. Keep in mind you need to file your claim shortly after leaving military service and you will need your medical records.

I highly recommend visiting your local VA representative or a Veterans Service Organization for assistance with completing the paperwork for your disability claim.

Here are the current VA service-connected disability rates. The rates receive an annual increase for cost of living.

Other VA Benefits

You should still be eligible for other veteran benefits such as the VA Loan, GI Bill, or other veteran benefits (check with your state or the VA for more information). Here is a Veterans Benefits Guide which lists these benefits, and more.

Best Option for You?

Only you know the full situation of your separation. So the best thing to do is take some time to think about your situation, and your goals. If you separated some time ago, it may be difficult, or impossible to get back in the service, depending on your reenlistment code, current health, and other factors.

However, if you are able to return to service, joining the Guard or Reserves may be an option, depending on your reenlistment code, and the needs of the units. However, you may potentially be able to cross-train into another job, so don’t let that prevent you from seeking that option.

Good luck with your decision, and thank you for your service.

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  1. Gerald easson says

    I have recently heard from some other veterans, that if you have fifteen plus years of Honorable service but less than twenty and have a few years of Honorable Federal service time, but less than twenty years, that you may be eligible for a partial retirement.

  2. Chester says

    Can you receive military retirement if you served 13 years in the Air National Guard with Honorable Discharged? I suffer from extreme PTSD, which was caused by my time in the military.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Chester,

      The standard requirement for military retirement eligibility is 20 years of service. However, it may be possible to receive a medical discharge and medical retirement (this would need to occur while you are still in the service). It may also be possible to file a VA disability claim, which can provide additional pay and benefits.

      I recommend working with a veterans service organization to help you file your claim. Here are some organizations.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service.

  3. Brittany says

    If you decide to leave the Guard/Reserve after 10 years do you get health insurance for life through Tricare?

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