Reserve Retirement Eligibility

A reader writes:

I have been digging for answers and am just getting more confused. Could you help me understand or steer me in the right direction to determine if I have earned the ‘ability’ to retire? Here is my circumstance:

– Resigned from active duty in December 1992

– Accepted an appointment in the Inactive Reserve USAF

 I have maintained that status to this date. The Reserve system website shows I have over 5841 total retirement points. Am I “eligible” to retire under this situation? I often find that these websites seem to answer every question other than the one I seek. Can you help?

There’s confusion among servicemembers about the acronym “IRR” and the term “inactive”. The first one stands for “Individual Ready Reserve” but is sometimes mistakenly known as “Inactive Ready Reserve” or even “inactive Reserve”. Members of the IRR do not have a drill billet and do not drill for pay, so they’re occasionally considered to be “inactive”.

However, the term “inactive” technically refers to Reserve members who are not in the Ready Reserve but rather the “Inactive Standby” status of the Standby Reserve List. (The diagram shown here is on page 12 of that PDF link.)

Diagram of Air Force Reserve organization

IRR or inactive?

They’ve usually been released from active duty without any Reserve service obligation. Other Reservists ended up on the Inactive Status List because they have specialized skills that may someday be useful to the service. They’re not drilling or on other duty orders but they’re considered too valuable to just be discharged. They may be working in a civilian occupation that’s tied to the military (like aircraft maintenance or civil affairs) or they may rarely be returned to duty for special situations.

A very few may be in that status because they’re living in foreign countries where American Ready Reservists are not permitted by the Status of Forces Agreement. (They’re not counted against U.S. military numbers.) This usually happens with dual-military couples where the active-duty spouse is stationed overseas and the Reserve spouse transfers to inactive status to comply with host country treaty requirements.

It can even apply to key employees in state or federal civil service, or elected officials who want to continue to maintain their Reserve affiliation but are not able to leave their position to participate in Reserve duties.

Reservists on the Inactive Status List are not Ready Reservists, so they don’t drill or go on duty. Because Reservists on the Inactive Status List are not participating in some sort of drill program or other activities that earn retirement points, they will not achieve retirement eligibility. They would have to change their status (at a minimum) back to the IRR or return to drilling in a billet.

(I can already hear the next question: where does he learn this arcane trivia? Well, it’s all in the pubs and websites if you have the time & motivation to dig it out. We financially independent military retirees can do that all day when the surf is flat. I also got lucky: my Reserve spouse drilled in a Pacific Command Reserve unit here on Oahu, where it’s big and joint and full of special situations. She saw at least one of just about everything.)

But Individual Ready Reserve is a different situation.

The vast majority of servicemembers (in any status) need at least 20 years of service to be eligible to retire. The exceptions to that 20 years involve retiring under temporary early retirement programs or medical disability, but again those only apply to a very small percentage of military retirements. That 20 years can be a mix of active duty and Reserve years.

When you join the Reserves, your service is tracked with a “good years” counter as well as your point count. Every year of active duty earned you a good year toward a Reserve retirement. Every year in the Reserves has to meet the minimum requirements to be awarded a “good year” for retirement credit, and this is tracked on your annual summary. When you reach a combination of 20 years of active duty and Reserve “good years”, then your service sends a “Notice of Eligibility” letter to formally notify you that you’re eligible to retire. The number of points affects the amount of your military pension, but only good years affect your retirement eligibility.

When you’re part of the Individual Ready Reserves, “good years” can be difficult. An IRR Reservist might only have been required to do an annual muster, but that’s not enough for a good year. If you wanted to continue to earn “good years” toward retirement then you would have been required to complete a minimum number of points through correspondence courses or other activities. You would not be paid, but you’d get points for those activities. After you reached the minimum requirements for that year then you’d get credit for a good year on your summary.

Your Reserve system website should also display your number of good years of active duty and Reserves. If you left active duty with 10 years of service (which counts for 10 good years), then between 1992 and 2013 you would have needed to achieve another 10 “good years” in the inactive Reserve. If your record shows a total of at least 20 good years then you’re ready to contact your service’s Reserve personnel center to confirm that you’re eligible to retire. They’ll issue your NOE and help you file for “retired awaiting pay” status.

If your record shows less than 20 good years then you need to talk to the Reserve personnel center to figure out if any of those years were not properly credited to your record. I don’t know each service’s requirements for a “good year” during those years, but you might only have needed 35-50 points each year. You have quite a few points on your record, so hopefully, you earned enough of them each year to be credited for a good year.

Let me know how this works out. Your experience may help other Reservists who could have the same questions.

Related articles:
Military retirement from the Individual Ready Reserve
Retiring from the Reserves and National Guard
Reserve military pension for “discharge” instead of “retired awaiting pay”
Calculating a Reserve retirement
Guard & Reserve handbook

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. SMH,

    As far as I can tell from the information you’ve given, you’re being correctly credited for your active-duty time (active service) and IRR time (inactive service).

    For every year of qualifying service (a “good year”) in the IRR then you’d have an additional year of longevity for pay purposes. The good year would also count toward a Reserve/Guard retirement. Your promotion gives you a new paygrade, of course, but it doesn’t change your pay longevity or your retirement credit. In addition, the term “time in grade” for retirement is only used to determine your eligibility to retire at that grade.

    However only the points that you’ve earned would count toward an active-duty retirement, and only if you reached active-duty sanctuary while on Reserve/Guard active-duty orders.

  2. A question about time in grade credit. I served on AD 1983-1987 (4 yr 7 mo). I then entered IRR and was promoted to a MJR while in IRR in 1990 (I still have the letter). I went back on AD in 2013 and when they calculated my credit for rank, they only counted the 4 yr 7 mo-not any of the IRR time even though I was promoted during that period. With all my grade credit, I came back in as a LTC over 5, but wonder if it should have been more. If the IRR should have been credited as “active service” instead of “inactive service” I think it should have been counted. If so, can you provide the written reference so I can refer to it in my appeal ABCMR?

  3. Where does one go to check the Good years to plan for a future retirement? I didnt 9 years on Active and 4 Reserves IRR and 2 ANG. My EOS says I have 18 years in but I am thinking after the stuff I have read that really doesn’t mean much unless I got enough points etc.. Before I try and reup I want to know how far away I am if Im close or not.
    Appreciate any help.

    • You’re absolutely right, Mark, and it’s an important point. You not only have to have the ID card during those years in the IRR and ANG, but you also have to get the minimum number of points for a good year and meet all of your service’s other requirements (like physical fitness and deployment readiness).

      Your record of service (including point count and good years) is online but you might not have the account access yet. If you have contacts with a local Reserve/Guard unit for your service then I’d start there. Ask them if they can look up your record, or find out who to call at your personnel branch HQ. If that doesn’t pan out then visit your local recruiter and explain the situation. They’ll have to look up your record anyway, and you can verify the numbers against your DD-214s.

      Almost every veteran I’ve known in their 50s (or older) tells me that they wish they’d made the effort to get to 20 years of service. It’s going to be difficult to rejoin during a drawdown, and you may have a tough time getting enough drills/duty to qualify for a good year, but if you have the opportunity then it’s worth the effort.

  4. Doug-
    I am a Traditional (TR) Air Force Reservist that will have 20 good years on 31 May 2015. I would like to retire, but I have one outstanding issue– my Transfer of GI Bill Benefit service commitment date. This date is 1 August 2016. I would like to stop being a TR and become IMA, IRR, Academy Liaison Officer (I think that this is a CAT E Reservist), or a Civil Air Patrol Officer (I also think that this is a CAT E Reservist). I am having a difficult time determining which of these (and all of the different status) will meet the criteria for a “good year” towards the GI Bill Transfer of Benefit Commitment– I know that this “good year” is NOT the “good year” towards retirement, they are 2 different things. What status’ meet the GI Transfer criteria?

  5. I know that a Reserve Component retirement is no longer based on your highest 36 months of pay, but on the grade that you’ve held for 36 months. If you have 20 qualifying years of service, get promoted, and transfer into the IRR before you’ve completed 3 years in grade, can your IRR time count towards those 3 years, even if you don’t earn 50 points per year?

    • Outstanding question, Tom. The Reserve retirement system is tremendously confusing and I get many queries about it.

      First, your time served in the IRR counts toward your time in rank, even if you don’t earn enough points for a good year. Your time in rank is only based on the date that you promote (not “select”!) and that time does not depend on drilling status or retirement credit. You earn points toward your pension (and your good years) but points aren’t related to your rank.

      However all servicemembers have to serve in a rank for at least six months to retire in that rank, and the time in grade for O-4 and above is three years. In some cases (like a drawdown) this can be waived by the service secretary to two years. That’s part of federal law applicable to all the services:

      Your Reserve pension is still based on your highest 36 months of pay, and here’s the really interesting part: it’s the pay tables in effect when your pension starts. When you “retire awaiting pay” (instead of separating or being discharged) then that 36 months is counted as though you’ve been on active duty the entire time. It not only includes the 36 months before your pension starts (at age 60 for most gray area retirees) but it’s also at the longevity as if you’d been on active duty the whole time. Here are the references from DFAS and DoD:

      So if you’re 45 years old in 2015 and retire awaiting pay (gray area, not discharged) then your pension will start at age 60 in 2030. (If you deployed to a combat zone for at least 90 days in a fiscal year after 28 January 2008 then your pension will start 90 days earlier.) When DFAS determines your highest 36 months of pay, they’ll include all the military pay tables between 2016 and 2030 as well as the rest of your service. (This gives your Reserve pension a little protection against inflation.) For almost all Reserve retirees starting their pension in 2030, the highest 36 months of pay will be in those pay tables of 2027, 2028, 2029, and 2030.

      Not only will your High-Three pension be calculated from the pay tables in effect when your pension starts, but (because you’re “retired awaiting pay”) it’ll be determined from the longevity in your retirement rank as though you’ve been on active duty the entire time. If you retired awaiting pay as an E-7>20 in 2015 then your High Three calculation would include the E-7>35 column of the pay tables. E-7 pay tops out at >26 in the 2015 pay tables, but that could be different by 2030. Although you retired as E-7>20, your pension is calculated on at least E-7>26 pay. The difference is even bigger for an O-6, where pay tops out at >30.

      This means that as soon as you reach time in rank (in the IRR), you can retire awaiting pay (gray area) at that rank. Your longevity will continue to accrue, and you don’t have to hang around in the IRR waiting to go >24 or >30.

  6. i have 20 years in the national guard as of October 2014. I was promoted to E-6 in August of 2014. I requested transfer to the IRR effective February 2015. My unit now tells me that I will be demoted because I did not complete the required time in grade to retain E-6. I thought if I get 50 points per year in the IRR it counts as a good year. Can you clarify or point me in the right direction for clarification of this matter?

    • Great question, Jeremy!

      I’ve never heard of this before. Before you pursue transfer to the IRR, ask to see the applicable instruction (or message) for this “demotion”. If you can get a reference from your service’s personnel branch then I can research the issues.

      It’s possible that your IRR transfer is being confused with a retirement request. (Federal law requires at least two years’ time in grade for certain officer ranks.) However it’s also possible that a new rule has been added to your service’s National Guard policies, which frequently happens during a drawdown. If that’s the case then I’d like to figure out whether it conflicts with federal law.

      Although it’s possible to obtain points and good years in the IRR, you may already have enough good years to be eligible for a pension. Verify that your statement of service does indeed give you at least 20 good years, and make sure you have your service’s Notice of Eligibility before you go to the IRR. It’s difficult to get enough points in the IRR to have a good year, and most servicemembers in the IRR only complete correspondence courses or other special duties for a few points per year.

      You do not need to be in the IRR to obtain additional longevity (for higher pay) in your rank. Reserve/Guard members who “retire awaiting pay” will attain longevity in their rank as if they had been on active duty the entire time until they started drawing their pension. For the vast majority of servicemembers, this means that their pension is calculated using the maximum pay scale in the pay tables at their rank– and using the pay tables in effect during the year when they start their pension.

  7. Where can I get a list of courses I can take for points while in the IRR? I am close to getting 20 years but got promoted over my slot and had to join the IRR!

  8. Great job, Nords. I know you’ve posted it before, but I’ll add it here again.
    If you’re flexible, or between jobs, a good way to get a good year or two are some of the short- and long-term jobs for IRR Marines here: Everything from Quantico or New Orleans to Liberia or Tbilisi.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the opportunities on Oahu. I guess there is a mismatch between the needs there and the Reserve population available. I know of at least 2 Marines that commuted to Oahu to drill — one from Maryland, and one from Alaska.

    To sum up: after you’ve done your required active duty service, you work the jobs that YOU want to, and the ‘one weekend a month’ jobs are just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Thanks, Rob, that’s a great link!

      I think the Reserve/Guard career options have become so broad that they’re overwhelming, and the vocabulary is certainly confusing. When someone transitions from active duty to the Reserve/Guard they may also transfer a large dose of burnout, so they’re not always eager to absorb all of the new info. (I can attest that my Reserve ignorance kept me on active duty for far longer than I should have stayed.) I’ve found a document that helps answer many of those questions in a reader-friendly format, and I’ll write it up in a future post.

      As for Oahu, PACOM and other headquarters commands have plenty of Reserve work. At one time over a third of PACOM’s active-duty billets were “gap-filled” with Reservists… for anywhere between months to years. I know several servicemembers who move among Reserve duty, civil service, and contractor work– frequently in the same building. Reserve/Guard servicemembers should check their service’s list (like Rob’s USMC link)– or contact me and I’ll try to put you in touch with a local.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?