If you are in the National Guard or the Reserve, you earn points toward retirement while serving part-time and when called to active service.
You qualify for military retirement as a member of a Reserve Component once you have reached 20 creditable years of military service. What does it take to make it to retirement as a Reservist or National Guard member? Putting in enough creditable time, which is associated with certain types of duty (not all) which may earn points toward retirement.
There are circumstances where you may be placed on a Guard or Reserve retired list due to an injury or disability even if you have not reached 20 creditable years, but these situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and you will need to discuss your circumstances with your command support staff, First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, Detailer, etc.
In cases where you must appeal a decision in this area, you may need to submit supporting documentation to your command, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other authorities.
Who Is Eligible For Guard/ Reserve Retirement?
In order to be approved for retirement pay in the Guard or Reserve, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be age 60 or older.
- You do not receive military retired pay through any other means.
- You have completed at least 20 years of qualifying military service.
If you earned your 20th qualifying year before April 26, 2005, federal law mandates that you must serve the last six years of qualifying service as a member of a Reserve component. There is no minimum service requirement established for those who earned their points after April 26, 2005.
What Counts As Qualifying Military Service
The only type of service that counts toward Guard and Reserve retirement is known as “uniformed service”, which means you must be an officer or enlisted member of a Reserve Component like the Air Force Reserve, state National Guard, Army Reserve, etc. Working in any civilian capacity does not count toward military retirement.
It’s not just the nature of your military commitment, you must also earn enough points toward retirement in a given year to have that year count as a “creditable retirement year” which is defined in a very specific way. How do you earn points? In a variety of ways including:
- Active duty and active duty for training is worth one point per day.
- Being on active status of a reserve component is worth 15 points for each year.
- Authorized drills earn one point per drill.
- Funeral Honor Duty earns one point per incident of service.
Rack up enough points and you earn a creditable year toward your military retirement as a member of the Guard or Reserve.
What is a Creditable Year?
A creditable year is defined as one where you earn 50 retirement points or more. How are these points awarded? Retirement points that are awarded for things other than active duty service count, but they are capped:
- 60 points maximum for qualifying service before 23 September 1996,
- 75 points maximum between 23 September 1996 and 30 October 2000,
- 90 points maximum between 30 October 2000 and 29 January 2008,
- 130 points maximum for 29 January 2008 and beyond.
Your points and the rules for them may have some variation depending on whether you serve in the Guard or Reserve, and may also depend on which branch of military service you do your Reserve or Guard duty in.
What Happens When You Earn Enough Points To Retire?
Once you have completed 20 creditable years of military service, you are provided written notice in the form of a document called a Notice Of Eligibility or NOE.
Some states may call this something else when notifying members of the National Guard, but the bottom line is that you are notified that you have become eligible to claim your military retirement. When you get this notification you cannot be denied retirement pay when you hit age 60 even if there was an error (in your favor) in the recordkeeping. There is one exception in cases where there has been fraud committed in this area by the service member.
The NOE is often referred to in certain circles as a 20-year letter, and from time to time some who have earned the letter do not receive it.
If this applies to you and you have a full 20 years of qualifying military service, you must write to your branch of the service to formally request the letter. You can get help from your command support staff to direct the message. Help may also be available from your unit orderly room, First Sergeant, Detailer, or Sergeant Major.
When Do I Start Getting Guard/Reserve Retirement Pay?
As mentioned above, Guard and Reserve pay does not start until you reach the eligible age and you MUST apply for retirement pay. You will likely be approved for your first National Guard retirement check Or Reserve retirement pay 30 days after your 60th birthday. If you had a delay in applying and didn’t “drop papers” until after you turned 60, your pay is awarded retroactively to the date of your 60th birthday.
You do NOT have unlimited time to claim your retirement. There is a six-year window of opportunity to apply, and a retirement claim filed after that six years means you lose a day’s pay for each day of delay.
A Word About “Gray Area” Retirees
A gray area retiree is someone who has served enough creditable time in the Guard or Reserve but is not old enough to draw retirement pay yet. Those who reach this gray area may stop drilling, join the Retired Reserve and wait out the interval between retiring and drawing retired pay. If this applies to you, one of the most important things to do after hitting the gray area is to maintain current contact information in DEERS and with your command support staff. If the military cannot locate you to send you your Notice of Eligibility, you may experience a delay in getting your benefits.
Things To Know About Retiring From The Guard Or Reserve
Not all military retirements are the same. In addition to serving 20 years of creditable service, some Reserve Component members may qualify for military retirement due to a disability. If you retire with a VA disability rating of 30 or higher, you qualify for disability retirement pay. To qualify for this, you must serve a minimum of eight years and your injury or disability must be service-connected. There are two different types of disability retirement that may apply in such cases:
Permanent disability retirement is typically offered when you retire with a 30% disability rating or better. VA ratings are determined by a “schedule” of disability ratings and you may find that certain conditions are capped no matter what degree of severity–for example, tinnitus is capped at 10%. No VA disability rating will exceed 100%.
Temporary disability retirement is offered in cases where a military member has a medical issue that prevents them from performing duty. Those who are placed on the temporary list are reevaluated every 18 months, but within five years a determination must be made to go on the permanent disability retirement list or come off the disability retirement list altogether.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has the final say in all cases, but that does not mean you cannot appeal a decision made about permanent or temporary disability retirement. You also have recourse to appeal a VA disability rating decision. If you need to appeal such a decision, be sure to gather any additional supporting evidence or documentation you might need to convince the VA to re-evaluate your claim.
Not all appeals are successful, but failing to appeal a VA decision could mean being stuck with the results of their original evaluation for the duration of your retirement unless circumstances change to allow you to apply for a new evaluation.
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.