If the military’s pension and healthcare benefits solve an early retiree’s biggest challenges, then why are military early retirees so hard to find?
Have you ever noticed that the people in your command can help you with just about anything? No matter how obscure your question, there’s always someone who knows the answers or can find somebody else who does. While the “soldier network” is great for career or lifestyle advice on active duty, it’s not so good for asking questions about retirement. Everyone knows a retired veteran but the details seem a little vague.
The retired people must have better things to do with their time because they hardly ever drop by the office. How are they doing? What problems did they have with the transition process? What should we watch out for? Were they ready for retirement? Did they have to get a job or did they already have enough money to do whatever they wanted to? If they’re not working then what do they do all day?
A 2004 study of the U.S. military concluded that only about 15% of the nation’s veterans remained on duty for at least 20 years. The service percentages vary from as high as 30% (Air Force) to less than 10% (Marines). The number of retired veterans in that 15% who become early retirees (no longer working for pay) is even smaller.
After several years of searching, I have personally only met a handful of people who completely retired after a 20-year career. There are no Department of Defense studies and there is very little other information on the phenomenon. One survey conducted by Russ Graves, a retired officer at Texas A&M University, concluded that 85% of retired officers immediately returned to civilian work after the military. This percentage was largely independent of military career satisfaction, wealth, expenses, and other lifestyle factors. However, in the more senior ranks, the percentages returning to civilian work were even higher!
Semi-retirement and bridge careers are far more common (and more achievable) than early retirement. While a veteran can usually return to full-time employment, if they’re financially independent then they can seek employment on their own terms. It may be entrepreneurial, part-time, seasonal, or one contract at a time– but financial independence is the key to having the choice.
Whether these veterans are retired early, semi-retired, or working in a bridge career, they’re out there. They found a way to do it, and you can too! So let’s figure out where they’re hiding and get their advice.
One option for finding military retirees is developing your own network. (If you’re in the Air Force then a statistical summary of Marine Corps retirements may not seem very relevant. You want to talk to the veterans who share your background and experiences.) As you read shipmates’ retirement announcements or sit through their ceremonies, ask if you can contact them in a few months. You want to learn what retirement surprises they encountered and they’ll be happy to share their new lifestyle. They may be working on a bridge career, but you’ll gain their perspective on how their military pension and healthcare benefits have eased their transition.
The Retired Activities Office at your local base is another option. Their mission is to help retirees solve problems. They also coordinate volunteer efforts, so the staff has a long list of retiree contacts and they’ll be happy to pass along your questions.
By far the best place to find military retirees is on Internet discussion boards like Military.com or Navy.TogetherWeServed.com (and the other services). A huge veteran’s network has grown over the last decade to share information on benefits, reunions, and memories. While enjoying tracking down old wingmen, find out if they’ve retired early or if they’re in a bridge career. Veterans will also post at Internet early-retirement discussion boards like Early-Retirement.org.
If the military’s pension and healthcare are such a great deal, then why are all these retirees returning to work? Believe it or not, the answer is not always related to financial independence. I’ll cover some of the reasons in another post.