(FAQ archive) Military member who's confronting an early medical retirement?

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Moderator Emeritus
Dec 11, 2002
We've noticed that some members of the military have come here seeking information about medical "early retirement".

When you're in the military, "early retirement" generally means being retired before reaching 20 years of service. It implies being forced out by medical issues or downsizing. Although there's still a COLA pension and healthcare, it's less money and it's not the same ER as in the sense of "served my time, never working again". Veterans have been known to fight against being "early retired" because they'd prefer to leave at their own discretion-- or at least have more time to prepare.

Here's our advice on medical issues or a physical evaluation board:
- Visit your base legal staff and read through the regs that govern your situation. Don't just talk with them-- ask for their help in reviewing the specific instructions & regulations and how they pertain to you. Ask them if there's any way to acquire an advocate or an ombudsman who can monitor your case and make sure you're treated right. You want to know the differences among a regular retirement, a few months/years on the Temporary Disabled Retirement List, and a medical/disability retirement. Even if you make it to 20 there's the strong possibility that you'll have a disability rating.

- Legal may be able to determine whether the paperwork was done correctly and whether the medical board is following the applicable procedure. It might help to emphasize that you just want to make sure this is all done correctly the first time so that you don't ever have to revisit it.

- Visit the instructors of the local transition assistance course for retiring veterans. They know the general provisions of veteran's benefits programs. More importantly they have the references & instructions and they know who to call for questions.

- The base hospital may offer a support group for medical conditions leading to early retirement. If there's one in your area then you can discuss your situation with them and find out their experiences.

- Military.com's "Your Military Advantage" is an excellent guide to figure out what you're already entitled to and what you may be able to fight for. The author lays out the best benefits explanation I've ever read, along with resources and references to the source documents.

- Military.com's discussion boards may have others in the same situation who can share their knowledge & experience. There may also be valuable advice on one of the service-related boards like:
the Physical Evaluation Board Forum,
the Veterans Benefits Network,
http://Marines.TogetherWeServed.com/ and its Navy/Air Force counterparts, or
the GruntsMilitary Forum.

- Visit one of your local veteran's organizations like the American Legion, the Fleet Reserve, the VFW, or the Military Officers Association of America. They'll be able to tell you about the local VA or other resources.

- If you rate a Purple Heart then make sure you get it and that it's on your DD-214. It has a bearing on both your pension and your veteran's benefits.

Setting aside the retirement questions for a minute, please take care of yourself. Find the best medical advice you can get, and follow it regardless of whether you're expected to be fully qualified to return to duty. Don't risk a lesser approach, and don't end up in the hands of a quack, just because they're promising that you'll be fully restored to duty. There are many LIMDU alternatives to "100% worldwide deployable" and the military isn't exactly so overburdened with career veterans that they can afford to discard them. The medical-board process will attempt to find a way to get you to 20 or to do the right retirement by your medical prognosis.
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[Moderator note: This post was copied on request from this thread

I realize that ScaredSailor may not be hanging around here any longer, but a lurker contacted me with additional information. I've learned something new so here it is for the rest of the board:

In his words:
Sorry to jump in cold like this. I'm not registered with the ER site but view it regularly and felt the need to respond to ScaredSailor somehow.

I am a retired soldier who faced circumstances similar to ScaredSailor. I was winding down my career as an AGR (Title 32) National Guard soldier (full-time). I was also dealing with a serious kidney disease that ultimately led to the need for kidney dialysis and a transplant.

I too thought that once I hit my 18 year mark, I was safe to get to my 20 years. That is not the case with medical boards. The stance of Walter Reed (and AR 635-40) was a soldier could be medically retired with 19 years, 11 months and 20 days and not have any protection to get to 20 years. The liaison officer said that since I would receive a pension, I had no legal protection to get to finish my 20.

As you know, completing 20 years is huge because of Concurrent Receipt. If ScaredSailor achieves 20 years and is rated as 50% disabled by the VA, he or she is entitled to both their pension and VA compensation. If he falls short of 20 years, he is subject to the offset. He would be a Chapter 61 retiree and they are not entitled to any Concurrent Receipt. There are provisions for Continuation on Active Duty (COAD) in AR 635-40 but in my experience, the Army does not approve those cases often. I would be surprised if the Navy would be very generous either.

This link explains the Chapter 61 situation:
MOAA - Today's Officer: All Disability Retirees Earned Concurrent Receipt

Fortunately for me, everything worked out well: made my 20 years, received my rating from the VA and most importantly, my health is very good. I would hope that everything works out for the other gentleman as well. My advice is to learn the regs inside out and exploit every delay and appeal to gain more knowledge (and waiver/continuation opportunities) while proving that you're worthy of reaching 20. Another thought would be to bring up any other issues now and see them through maximum recovery -- anything that would require additional diagnosis and treatment before reaching 20.

I spent a lot of time on the Veteran's Benefit Network (Veterans Benefits Network Forums). There is a wealth of information regarding the physical evaluation board process on that site in addition to VA and other military benefit issues. On of the moderators in the MEB/PEB area is a medically retired officer by the name of Mike Parker who is a huge advocate for military members caught up in this MEB/PEB process. I'm sure he would be happy to help ScaredSoldier as well. Mike came on the scene not long after my saga ended and, if I recall, he was very upset with how he was treated while in the system himself.

Moderators, I'd appreciate it if you could copy this post to the FAQ Archives thread on "Military member who's confronting an early medical retirement?"

I'll also send ScaredSailor a PM.
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