Sanctuary In The Reserves: Only On Active Duty
I’m getting a lot of sanctuary e-mail, and it’s partly because some of today’s Reserve and National Guard servicemembers are approaching 6574 points– nearly 18 years of service.
Here’s three questions from readers wondering whether they can claim sanctuary.
I currently have 30 years of service (13 active and 17 reserves) with 6405 points. I’m considering applying for sanctuary next year. I’d like to know which scenario would benefit me more financially if I retire as active duty with 20 years (if I get sanctuary status) or as a gray area reservist.
I understand that Reservists who’ve earned at least 7200 retirement points by their last day of Reserve duty, become eligible for an immediate active duty retirement. If so, will they immediately receive retirement pay for BOTH the accumulated active duty points AND the inactive duty points, or must they wait through the “grey area” for the inactive duty points?
Does accumulating 7300 total points of inactive duty points and active duty time and over 20 satisfactory years warrant an active duty retirement right away or does the member still collect at age 60?
I have gotten mixed reviews on this one and have been wondering about it. I’ve talked to folks in D.C. and even they say 7300 points is the magic number to hit no matter what combination of Active and Reserve time you have.
I was reading your blog about Reserve retirements. I see that someone asked a question about a Reservist accumulating 20 active years and how to figure their retirement pay. I fall into that category too. I would love to correspond with you so you could help me understand what retirement pay I will be entitled to after my 20 active years and 24 years of good service total.
Between my seven years of regular active duty and my slew of Reserve voluntary active duty orders at other commands, in a few months I will have 20 actual active years of service.
Ever since I was close to 16 years of active service, I have been required to sign a sanctuary waiver in order to be allowed to come on orders. That was so I would not claim sanctuary after I had 18 years of active service.
However, I have been blessed enough that I will achieve the 20 active years!
At the beginning of next year I will have 7629 points.
The most important sanctuary rule
Sanctuary comes from federal law Title 10 U.S. Code section 12686. It’s deceptively simple: if you’re a Reservist on active duty (not for training!) who goes over 18 years of points (while on active duty), then you get to stay on active duty until you’re eligible for an active-duty retirement at 20 years.
Yes: sanctuary only happens when you’re on active duty.
It’s also derived from a broader protection of federal law (Title 10 U.S. Code section 1176) regarding involuntary discharge. Every member of the military (on active duty) who’s within two years of retirement is entitled to stay on active duty until they’re eligible for their active-duty pension.
That’s how the urban legends start. People think that they’ll qualify for sanctuary if they have 18 years of points, or 18 good years, or more than 6574 points, or by being on any kind of Reserve orders. Or maybe they know someone who heard of someone who manipulated the Reserve bureaucracy into issuing orders and then ambushed the chain of command by claiming sanctuary for an immediate active-duty retirement. Winning!
No. There are no conspiracy theories, either.
I’ll highlight the important points of sanctuary in the next few paragraphs, and at the end of this post I’ll link to your service’s applicable instructions and information sheets. Please read the “Related posts” section at the bottom for more sanctuary topics which are beyond the scope of this post.
When your service really needs you.
The most important aspect of sanctuary is that it only happens when your service has an urgent need for your skills. It’s not a reward for your years of Reserve duty or mobilizations. It’s because the military needs a trauma surgeon right now or a combat-experienced officer to fill a critical watchbill position on a joint warfare commander’s staff. Those are servicemembers I personally know who’ve claimed sanctuary, or who have written me to share what they’ve learned from it.
Another critical aspect of sanctuary is that it costs your service a lot of money. When you apply for a Reserve retirement, your service is allowed to have your pension paid out of DoD funds. However DoD will not pay the bill for a sanctuary-related pension. When a service decides that they need to mobilize you into sanctuary, they have to be willing to buy it out of their own money. When a Reserve or Guard member claims sanctuary and “upgrades” from a Reserve pension to an active-duty pension, DoD makes the service pay the active-duty pension out of their own personnel funds until the retiree reaches age 60. When your service gives you a sanctuary “sweet deal”, it’s because they’re fixing a crisis.
What actually happens when you have a high point count.
A side effect of avoiding this expense is that the Reserve and Guard personnel staff spend a lot of time and money tracking your point count. If you go over 16 years of points then you’re placed in a special database to make sure that your service doesn’t inadvertently enable you to reach sanctuary. Any orders for longer than 29 days have to be approved at higher levels of the chain of command. Any orders that would put you into sanctuary status have to be approved by your service’s personnel general or admiral.
A common misconception is that sanctuary happens on any sort of orders. The reality is that a servicemember has to be mobilized and on active duty when they cross the 18-year line into sanctuary. These orders are not AT or ADT or any sort of training orders. (This was a subject of at least one sanctuary lawsuit.) The servicemember also has to agree to stay on active duty until they’re eligible for a regular active-duty retirement, and they’re issued a new set of orders to take them to that date. They can’t be extended past 20 years for any other reason– unless they leave their Reserve/Guard status and apply for permanent active-duty status.
A final misconception is that the military has to approve sanctuary. Even if you’re approved for mobilization orders, you could still be required to sign a waiver of “your” sanctuary rights. No waiver, then no orders… and no sanctuary. Waiving your right to sanctuary is also controversial but it’s in federal law (for mobilizations less than 180 days) and it’s been tested in court. You might still want the mobilization orders for a compelling mission and the experience and the boost to your career (and maybe even the pay)– but you won’t reach sanctuary.
During your Reserve/Guard career you can rack up more than 20 good years or go over 6574 points. (It’s not easy but Reader #3 shows it can be done.) You could do all the drill weekends and training orders you want, even if your “training” is flying an Air National Guard tanker mission for active-duty aircraft. But unless you’re mobilized on active-duty orders of more than 29 days, you won’t make sanctuary or be eligible for an active-duty retirement. Even when you meet all of the conditions, your service may ask you to waive your right to sanctuary.
What happens with the three readers at the start of this post?
Reader #1 could request mobilization, but he’s already being tracked for sanctuary status (and he was probably added to that database when he crossed 5840 points). Even if he has a unique skill in high demand, he’ll only be mobilized if there’s a critical mission– and then he’ll be asked to sign a waiver for 179-day orders. He’ll go over 18 years of points, but no sanctuary. He’ll eventually apply for a Reserve retirement.
Reader #2 is now a lot smarter on federal law and the DoD sanctuary system. He knows where to look it up in the references and in his service’s instructions instead of relying on the tribal lore of “the folks in DC”. He also understands that it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll ever reach sanctuary, and he’s expecting a Reserve pension instead of an active-duty one.
Reader #3 loves what she does, and she gets a lot of short-term active-duty orders. (Contact me if you want the details on where to live and how to find these orders.) Her sanctuary status was tracked as soon as she crossed 16 years of points, and she’s all too familiar with the sanctuary waivers.
The real goal: financial independence
Yet Readers #1 and #3 might already be financially independent. All of their Reserve duty has given them a very high point count and a High-Three Reserve pension at age 60. (In her case, it’s at least 53% of her High Three pay base.) This means that they could reach financial independence by saving and investing enough in their TSPs, Roth IRAs, and taxable accounts to live on until their pension starts. (If they need to, they can tap their TSPs and Roth IRAs penalty-free before age 59.5.) They really only need enough assets to bridge the gap until their Reserve retirement starts, and then their inflation-fighting pensions (with cheap healthcare) could cover most of their expenses for the rest of their lives.
They’ve already won the game in the fourth quarter, and now they’re just running up the score.
If you’re saving and investing for financial independence, then you can too.
Links to your service’s sanctuary instructions and policies:
The DoD sanctuary policy
The Army sanctuary information sheet (downloads a PDF)
The Navy sanctuary links from the Reserve page (SECNAVINST 1800.2 and OPNAVINST 1001.27 on the Personnel Command page)
The Marine Corps sanctuary instruction
The Air Force Sanctuary instruction
Military Reserve Sanctuary And Active-Duty Retirement
Sanctuary And Military Retirement During A Reserve Career
Sanctuary And Military Mobilization
Military Reserve Sanctuary Retirement And Time In Grade
Early Withdrawals From Your TSP And Your IRA After The Military