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.

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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?

  4. Bucky Simpson says

    I did a total of 13 1/2 years in the army. I did 3 tours of duty. 2 in Aphghanistan and 1 in Iraq. I was separated due to downsizing and never really went to sick call but I received an initial rating of 90%. They then added ptsd which put me over 100%. I was told because I didn’t have 15 years in I couldn’t do early retirement but now I am told because of my rating there is a disability retirement. I don’t know how to do that because I feel like I was shafted on retirement and seems all the downsizing was due because I was close to 15 year mark. Any advise would be appreciated.

  5. A.P. says

    I am a veteran that is permanent medical retired at 90% VA disability. I dedicated 17 1/2 years of service and received an honorable discharge is it possible to receive retirement pay?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello A.P., So far as I am aware, the only way to receive retirement pay at 17 1/2 years of service is if you received an early retirement or you were medically retired. Either of these would have occurred when you were in the process of transitioning out of the military. I am not aware of any method for having retirement retroactively applied.

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

  6. Gary says

    I am permanently disabled nonservice connected. I am getting disabled social security. I did 6 years honor discharge at the end of Vietnam era. Is there a pension available.I am on oxygen machine 24 hours a day.

  7. Jarriett Female Franklin says

    My name is jarriett Ann having a total of 17 in the Navy and Air Force, when I was in the Air Force reserve in a combat unit at March Air Force Base after serving 7 years active duty in the navy had an over sized fibroid tumor and was told I had to get out, having all ready transportation problems got ****** off and got out all together. Later found out all I had to do was to change my MOS now I want to take advantage of my benefits. Partial Retirement

  8. Jennifer says

    My husband was medically retired from the Air National Guard. He had 26 years in but was not AD the whole time. They calculated his time to 17 years. He was awarded 100% disability through the VA. Does he get a pension? We are paying SBP so I’m assuming he would get something when he turns 62?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jennifer, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have enough information to answer this question. My guess is that he may be eligible for a pension since he will be eligible for SBP. However, military medical retirement is different from regular retirement. So it may be possible that his retirement pay may be offset by VA disability benefits.

      Because each situation is unique, he should speak with his personnel section to have a full benefits review. He can schedule an appointment to go over what he has earned, which benefits he will receive, and when. This is the most accurate way to understand his benefits.

      I wish you both the best.

  9. Jason says

    I served 10 years active duty Marine Corps and was honorably discharged in 2005. I’ve been a DoD contract worker for the military since, and I’m trying to find a way to get credit for the remaining 10 years towards retirement in the reserves. I currently receive 70% service-connected disability, so I’m not looking for money. I just want to be able to obtain my 20 year retirement for benefits for my family. I heard that the IRR the best way to go for volunteer service that counts towards retirement so I don’t have to worry about getting paid, nor do I have to worry about anyone messing with my current disability. Is this correct?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hi Jason, It’s incredibly difficult to obtain a good year of service in the IRR. It can be done, but it’s not easy, and it is not common. In general, the IRR is more of a temporary arrangement, and it’s rare for people to remain in the IRR for 10 years. I don’t have much more information on this – I would seek out someone who is currently serving in the IRR to see if this is feasible and see if they have recommendations.

      Alternatively, you could consider joining the Guard or Reserves in a traditional drilling role. Of course, this isn’t without its drawbacks, as it could require significant time away from home and your civilian job.

      You can also buy your military service credits if you take a job with the civil service or another government agency that allows service buy backs. You wouldn’t receive a military retirement, but you would receive years of credit toward your government retirement, as well as accelerated leave accrual.

      I hope this is helpful. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  10. Janice M Doss says

    Hi Ryan
    I served in two branches of services (Air Force, and Army). I was involuntarily separated due to the fact I did most of my leadership classes during the time I served in the Air Force and not so much in the Army. I served over 19 years. I would like to know is it possible to receive retirement. I am now 62 years old. I never received any information about my situation before I turned 60 years old. I would like to know who I can contact about this matter. Thanks for any information that you can provide.
    Janice M Doss

  11. Sharon Sahlberg says

    My son is currently deployed in Iraq with the USMC. This past week he was not selected for the next step as a Major and was devastated. He has been in for just about 15 years and comes back in May. What are his options for continuing on in the Corps since he was not selected? This has been his life time dream since a young boy to make the Marines his career. He did go to college first then enlisted instead of officer training school till 4 years later after his first deployment to Iraq.

    He does not know I am inquiring about anything, but I am trying to figure out how they can do this to a person after all these years. Or can he stay in and continue as a Captain. Thank you for any information you can give me.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Sharon, Thank you for contacting me. There are many variables involved in an officer’s career, and we don’t have enough information to cover all the options at this point. Your son should be able to speak to a career counselor or retention counselor in the USMC who will be able to go over his options with him. In all likelihood, missing the promotion one time is not a career ending event. It can be a small setback, but that doesn’t mean his career is over. He should have at least one more opportunity to promote. After that, he will either be promoted to Major, or will have other options.

      At this point, the best thing he can do is speak to his supervision to find out what he can do to improve his chances at being promoted in the next promotion cycle. He should also speak with a career counselor or retention officer to ask the same questions. He can then examine his options and prepare accordingly.

  12. Kate says

    Can I ask about I’m active duty for 8 years and reserve after honorable discharge but went deployment 3X as a reserve active duty… does the 3 years count for active duty …

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Kate, Thank you for contacting me. Your time will count as active duty if you were on active duty orders (it sounds like you were). You should already have enough active duty time to qualify for the major benefits, such as Post-9/11 GI Bill and VA loan. After that, your time works toward the 20 good years for retirement, and retirement points, which impacts the amount of retirement pay you receive (provided you reach t20 years of service and qualify for retirement). I hope this is helpful.

  13. Tim says

    I am separating from the Navy with 14 years of active duty, honorably, and going reserve. My intention is to request active orders if I can not get a job in time before separating. How would this affect retirement? Say I sign up for minimum 6 years in the reserves, and get active duty orders for said 6 years, and then I retire. Would I receive the same retirement pension as AD, or would i still fall under the reserve retirement at 60?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Tim, Yes, if you serve 6 years of active duty time in the Reserves in an Active Guard Reserve (AGR status) then you would qualify for active duty retirement benefits. You can learn more about the different military statuses in the Reserves from your recruiter or Reserve liaison. I hope this points you in the right direction. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  14. Don says

    Hey I was in the marines for 8 years 01-09. Not looking for money just trying to see if I i could transfer my service time and work with the military as a civilian would that roll over or is my retirement have to start all over?

  15. Danny Castro says

    I spent 2 years active duty. Here’s my question. I think I spent 4 years inactive service before I actually recived my”Honorable Discharge “.. so is my total service 6 years towards retirement or 2 years. I’ve been blessed so I’m not looking for any money just wondering.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Danny, It depends on the type of inactive service you were classified under. For example, the Individual Ready Reserve is one type of inactive service in which you can gain credit for retirement, provided you also have additional service points for the year (IRR members receive 15 points toward a “good year” each year in the IRR, but you need 50 points in a year to receive retirement credit for that year). This article has a more in-depth explanation of the Guard and Reserve point system.

      In general, however, 20 years of service is the required number of years in order to receive retirement benefits. So this would only be important if you were planning on joining again and continuing service toward retirement.

      You may also want to know your total number of points if you were planning on buying time back with the civil service. I hope this helps. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service.

  16. Patrick Murphy says

    I am scheduled to retire on 08/26/16 . I am a air national guardsman that was told my 20 good years is also on 08/26/16. Now I am told I cannot retire on the same date my contract ends. ARPC says extend 30 days. My base says I have to extend 6 months minimum. That seems grossly unfair. Any thoughts? TSgt Patrick Murphy

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Patrick, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have access to the regs, so I don’t have a good reference. I would speak with your personnel section to see if there are regulations or policies that require a minimum extension. If there are, they should be able to provide them. If that is the case, then you will have to follow regulations or policy. If it is only a local policy, you may be able to request a waiver. Keep in mind that the base may want to keep you longer if possible, especially if they value your work or they don’t have a ready replacement.

      Though I don’t recommend going to the base legal office as a first course of action, you may consider speaking with them if you run into a wall and cannot find any answers anywhere else. It’s possible they are aware of other regulations or policies that may affect your situation. I wish you the best of luck during your retirement, and thank you for your service!

  17. LTC (Dr.) Paul McCullough says

    Mr. Guina,
    I’m an Active Duty LTC, with 18 1/2 years of service, who is seriously debating his options. I’ve been thinking a lot about joining the Reserves or National Guard, upon the conclusion of my 20 years of Active Duty. However, I have a few questions about this COA. First, am I eligible to still receive my pension if I join the Reserves or Guard? If not, when would I become eligible to receive my retirement? Second, if I get promoted in the Reserves or Guard to COL or beyond, would my retirement pay be based upon that rank or the LTC rank that I left AD with? Finally, what is the best way to determine if there are any jobs in my local area that I would be qualified to serve in, within the Reserves or National Guard?

  18. Michael Roberts says

    How about this……..

    I did 5 years Active Duty and was discharged with a Honorable Discharge. Upon separating, a Reserve Recruiter told me about the IRR.
    I did the IRR, for 15 years, but did not keep up with the points. So I cannot receive a regular paid retirement.
    1987 – 1992 Active Duty USN E-4
    1992 – 1997 IRR ( Honorably Discharged ) I have the certificate, actually went to Memphis to the IRR Dept. to finalize my time.
    Really, I am not looking for retirement pay, just to say I am retired. I do have 20 years of honorable service.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Michael, Thank you for contacting me. From my understanding, you need to continue to earn enough Points each each year while in the IRR to earn Good Years toward a Reserve retirement. Here is an article that discusses this topic in more depth.

      Without earning enough Points while you’re in the IRR, you won’t earn Good Years, which are required to be able to earn a retirement, or to even say you are retired military. I am not an expert on retiring from the IRR, so there may be something I am missing. You may be best served by contacting the Memphis IRR department to ask them for more information. I wish you the best and thank you for your service!

      • Jason says

        Here is my question. I put in 11 years with the National guard an did two combat tours. I was honorably discharged. Will I receive any kinda pay after I turn 60?

      • Ryan Guina says

        Hello Jason, Thank you for contacting me. Retirement from active duty, Guard, and Reserves is 20 years of qualifying service, unless offered early retirement from your branch of service. Early retirement is rarely offered, and requires a minimum of 15 years of service. The only other “early retirement” is a medical retirement.

        Based on the information provided, you would not be eligible for any retirement pay or benefits at age 60. However, you may be eligible for other benefits, depending on your service. You would need to have a records review to see which veterans benefits you may be eligible to receive. I recommend speaking with a representative of the VA or a veterans service organization such as the DAV, AMVETS, American Legion, VFW, etc. They all have trained counselors that can help you determine which veterans benefits you may be eligible to receive.

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

  19. Luis says

    When I retire I will have 20 years of service in the active and navy reserve combined. The problem is that I discovered that I was given a bad year when I returned from deployment due to information provided to me from my authorities and admin staff which I can no longer prove. So the points where not enough to give me a good year. I am now being told that I will not get any retirement after 20 long years of sacrifice to this country and I am having to submit a HYT waiver in order to stay in long enough to get a retirement. I am hanging by a thread and I am looking for gaps and options that I can take. I don’t understand how the Navy can get away with giving some nothing after 20 years and forcing because the don’t make rank.

  20. ADA says

    Ryan, USMC Officer that may be involuntarily separated if I do not make it to next rank. I will only have 14 years on active duty as an 04 by the time I may be separated. Is there a rank limitation to joining the Reserves?

    • Ryan says

      ADA: Thanks for contacting me. I don’t know the specific requirements, but I believe you may be able to transfer into the USMC Reserves if you are required to separate because of high year of tenure requirements. For a firm answer, I recommend speaking with your personnel officer or calling the USMC Reserves Prior Service Recruiting Office at 1-800-627-4637.

      Best of luck to you, and thanks for your service.

  21. Jerry says

    I think that the suggestion of Reserve/Guard service is a great one, if indeed the reader is eligible to lead him/herself back into the military that way. It would be a great way to enjoy the benefits of service (GI Bill, insurance availability, etc.) on a part-time basis without sacrificing those 15 years for nothing.

  22. Ryan says

    Jarhead: Very true – some benefits require an Honorable discharge, but the majority simply require any discharge higher than Dishonorable. I believe that all military members are eligible for disability regardless of which type of discharge the receive.

  23. Jarhead says

    Ryan you are right there is no partial retirement. I like the way you think about the disability and other VA benefits and applying for them but there is a problem. Some of those benefits require an HONORABLE discharge for you to be eligible. Unfortunately your reader points out that he does not have an honorable discharge. Also depending on the type of discharge he may not be able to enlist in the reserves.

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