Divorce And A Military Reserve Pension
A reader writes:
My husband was commissioned after ROTC in August 1966, placed on an educational deferment, and did not start active duty until February 1968. How many retirement points did he earn over that period and where is a regulation that addresses this?
After some more questions, I learned:
The time from commission to active duty had no drills or other kinds of services. He was in the Air Force and commissioned after summer training following ROTC.
I have no access to any of his papers. I know that in Sept 1973 he resigned a regular commission and was on Reserve duty until I believe 1995. I know that not all of his years were good years and the reason for his retirement from Reserve duty is that he was a lieutenant colonel and did not receive promotion within a given time frame. I think that he may have retired with 20 years of service.
What I am most concerned about is if any points for retirement were accrued during those 18 months of his educational deferment. It has to do with pension for me as an ex-spouse.
Before I discuss the answers, let me confess that I’m not an expert on all military programs & benefits. I learned a lot during 20 years of active duty, but I’ve mostly figured out where to find the references. Admittedly it’s a huge advantage to be married to a military spouse who has another quarter-century of experience from her own active-duty and Reserve units. I’m also getting pretty persistent skilled at picking the right keywords to enter into Google. I tried all of that for this reader’s question, of course, and came up empty.
My biggest resource (by far!) has been the contact network that I’ve developed over the last decade. It launched when over 50 servicemembers & veterans volunteered to help write “The Military Guide“. It accelerated when USAA invited a bunch of bloggers to their headquarters. These days it gains even more altitude through other blogs, FinCons, paperbacks & eBooks, blogger Facebook groups, Linkedin veteran’s groups, e-mails, and other networking.
At first this reader’s question stopped me in my tracks. I won’t tell annoy you with what I was doing in 1966, but let’s just say that the military was the furthest thing from my mind. I’m familiar with programs from the 1980s and 1990s, but even Google splutters out on military references before then.
I started looking through my network, and I eventually remembered that we servicemembers & veterans have a secret archive: veteran’s organizations. Whether they’re online or at a chapter in your neighborhood, you can probably find someone who knows someone who remembers how it used to be… and (this is the important part) where to find the reference.
For example, my father’s DD-214 shows that he did his compulsory service in the 1950s Army with recruit training followed by three months in armor school. (I remember him telling me that the highlight of his service was staying up one night to guard a tank.) However, this young private had also finished an electrical engineering degree and was hired by Westinghouse to help build electric plants & grids. After he completed his armor school he was granted a deferment, transferred to an Army Reserve unit, and immediately went into the Individual Ready Reserve. I don’t think he ever wore his uniform again, and he completed his obligation in the mid-1960s.
Another local friend completed his college degree through ROTC and served in the Army during the same years as our reader’s spouse. He confirmed for me that her spouse would have completed ROTC and been commissioned as a 2LT. His educational deferment meant that he would have spent the entire time in the IRR completing his degree. He was an officer without any Air Force specialty training schools so he would not have even had to muster for drill weekends, let alone any active-duty orders or correspondence courses. He would have earned zero points during this 18 months before starting his active duty obligation.
Unfortunately it’s a completely different challenge to find the references for these programs and to verify an ex-spouse’s service record. However, it might not be worth the time or money, so let me describe a few ways to do her own research before deciding whether to seek professional help.
First, an ex-spouse could hire a lawyer with experience in military divorce: someone who knows military benefits and the acronyms & jargon and how to read old service records. The lawyer could subpoena the ex-spouse’s service records to verify their point count. Another option would be for the lawyer to subpoena the ex-spouse’s pay & point-count records with the Air Force (or now with the Defense Finance & Accounting Service, or the record archives in St. Louis) to verify his pension calculation. I doubt that the verification would be worth the thousands of dollars of legal fees.
Second, she could talk to a local chapter of a veteran’s organization. Someone in their membership would have been in the service during the same time (like my friend), perhaps even under the same ROTC educational deferment. They’d know whether an ex-spouse would have earned any points.
Other research options include national groups like the Military Officers Association of America, the “divorce” category of the Military Money section on Military.com, the Disabled American Veterans, or TogetherWeServed.com. Service groups like the Association of the U.S. Navy could also help with specific programs. I’m not aware of any public websites that archive old military regulations or instructions (please contact me if you know of one!) but one of those organizations may have their own databases. The sidebar of this blog has more links to consider, and I’ve included more resources at the end of this post.
Here’s the practical reason that our reader might not care to invest any further effort in the research. Her ex-spouse served roughly five years and seven months on active duty, and that counts as roughly 2035 points. Then he spent the next 20+ years earning 15 more good years. Unless he spent a lot of time on Reserve mobilization or other active-duty orders during that 20 years, he probably earned about 50-75 points during each of his 15 good years. Let’s call that an average of 60 points per year (which is pretty generous, even by today’s standards) or another 900 points. That means when he retired as an O-5 he had roughly 2935 points. (Most Reserve officers retire with between 2500-4000 points.) Under the rules in effect in 1995, his service multiplier is roughly:
2935 / 360 * 2.5% = 20.38%.
In other words, he’s entitled to about 20% of his pay scale.
From his college graduation date I’d speculate that he was born around 1945, which means that he’d start collecting his pension at age 60 in 2005. When he retired in 1995, the rules in effect back then said that he’d retire at the “Final Pay” system. His pension would be a percentage of the highest pay scale in his retirement rank from the pay tables in effect for the year he turns age 60:
O-5 pay topped out at $6,997.50 in 2005, so his monthly pension would be:
$6,997.50 * 20.38% = $1426/month.
If she split that with him then her share would be $713/month.
Now let’s go back to those 18 months in 1966-68. If he was in the IRR during that time, he’d have to get a certain number of points to earn a “good year”. (However, he was on an educational deferment, so he didn’t have to earn any points at all and would have been just carried on the books until he was mobilized in August 1968.) Let’s say that the worst case was zero points, and the best case was 75 points.
If he earned 75 points during those 18 months (and from what we’ve learned so far, I highly doubt he did) then his point count would go from 2935 points to 3010 points His pension would be
$6997.50 * [(3010 / 360) * 2.5%] = $1462.
Her share would be $731/month. It rises by $18/month or $216/year.
And again, the educational deferment meant that he almost certainly earned zero points during that time. The actual pension amount is probably closer to $1426/month. Even if her ex-spouse earned some points during 1966-68 it might not be worth the time, hassle, and legal expenses to track down.
Military retirement and divorce
Military insurance: SGLI, VGLI, SBP, and other benefits
Veterans Benefits Network
Court citations from Disabled American Veterans archives
(That link opens a Word document of legal citations for veteran’s benefits.)
The “divorce” topic category at Military.com’s Money section
DOD FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT REGULATION 7000.14-R
(Military retired pay policy & procedures dating back to the 1930s)