Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Pension for part-time federal service?

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Q. I will be 62 in August 2015. I work part time as a registered nurse; I have worked 32 hours per period since 2002. Will I get a pension?

A. The only requirements to retire and receive a pension are that you be age 62 and have at least five years of service. When your annuity is computed, your years of service will be counted as full time; then your benefit will be reduced proportionately to account for your part-time service.

Cost of insurance after retirement

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Q. My husband wants to retire from the Postal Service after 25 years. How do we go about finding out what the cost of medical insurance will be? Read the rest of this entry »

SES retirement

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Q. Do the retirement benefits for SES employees differ in any way from non-SES employees?

A. No. Your annuity would be calculated in exactly same way. The only difference in benefits might be in your lump sum payment for unused annual leave. SES employees have a higher leave carryover ceiling than other employees, 720 hours vs. 240.

Management Directed Reassignment

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Q. I am a GS-11 Defense Department employee with the Navy who has been given a Management Directed Reassignment from the West to East Coast. Same job, same agency. I am eligible to retire, but I want to see out the rest of the year for financial reasons. If I decline the MDR, the agency is going to separate me from federal service utilizing adverse action procedures under 5 CFR 752. I am under a mobility agreement. Is this move appealable through the MSPB? If I refuse to relocate, will I lose any retirement benefits under the CFR provision? Do you have any resources that will aid my decision? Read the rest of this entry »

Non-taxed annuity

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Q. How does OPM determine the amount of years to pay back employ contributions to retirement? I have paid more than $114,000 into my retirement, and they are only allowing $3,800 a year for the non-taxed portion. This spans 30 years. I will probably never see it all. How is that fair? I would think it would be over the average life span of man in my case. Read the rest of this entry »

Unused annual leave

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Q. When CSRS employees retire, do you have to take the whole lump sum for your unused annual leave at one time or can you elect to have it paid to you in increments?

A. It’s always paid in a one-time lump sum.

Creditable Military Service, Pt. 2

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(Click here to read Part One)

To get credit for any period of military service, you need to deposit an amount that equals a percentage of your basic military basic pay, not including any allowances or differentials you may have received. The amount of the deposit depends on two things: whether you are covered by Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System, and when the military service occurred.

For CSRS employees, the deposit equals 7 percent of your basic pay for periods of service performed before January 1, 1999, 7.25 percent for periods of service during 1999, 7.4 percent for periods of service during 2000, and, finally, 7 percent for all service performed after December 31, 2000. For FERS employees, the amounts are 3 percent, 3.25 percent, 3.4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. (The percentages are one-half percent higher for special category employees, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters and air traffic controllers.)

You don’t have to make the deposit in a lump sum. You can make it in amounts as small as $50. However, In order to get any credit for your period(s) of military service, you must pay the total amount due before you retire. Note: If you have more than one period of military service, you have the option of making a deposit for any or all of those segments for which you want credit.

As a rule, post-1956 military service deposits must be made to your employing agency. The only exception is for former CSRS employees who are eligible for a deferred annuity, but only if they separated from the government between September 9, 1982 and September 30, 1983, and their survivor spouses. Such deposits can be made in a lump sum to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management at any time before the final adjudication of their case.


The Department of the Treasury sets the interest rates for military deposits, which begin on January 1 and end of December 31 each year. From January 1, 1948 through December 31, 1984, the rate was set by law at 3 percent. Since then, the amount has been based on market rates, which can change every year. In 1985, the rate was 13 percent, in 1990, 8.75, in 1995, 6.875, in 2000, 5.875, and in 2008, 4.875. In recent years the rates have declined dramatically. In 2010 the rate was 2.75 percent, in 2012, 2.25 and, in 2013 and 2014, 1.625.

Interest begins to accrue after a two-year grace period after you are first hired by the federal government. If you are called to active duty while already employed, the same grace period also applies to that new period of military service when you return to your civilian job. Note: As a rule, interest isn’t posted until the end of a calendar year. Therefore, if you complete your deposit before the end of the third year, you won’t be charged any interest.

Making a Deposit

If you want to find out how much you would have to deposit to get credit for your military service, fill out a copy of form RI 20-97, Estimated Earnings During Military Service, attach a copy of your DD-214, Report of Transfer or Discharge, or its equivalent, and mail it to the finance center for your branch of service. You can get a copy of form RI 20-97 from your personnel office or download a copy at

If you don’t have proof of your military service, you’ll have to fill out a copy of Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records, which you can download from Once you’ve filled it out, send it to your branch of service. They will provide you with a new DD-214 or its equivalent. Once you have it, you can attach a copy to your completed RI 20-97 and mail it to the finance center for your branch of service.

When you have a statement of your earnings while on active duty, you can fill out a copy of either Standard Form 2803 (CSRS) or 3108 (FERS), Application to Make Deposit or Redeposit, both of which are available in your personnel office or downloadable. Go to, click on Forms. When the screen appears, click on Standard Forms and scroll down to the one you want to download.

Take the Standard Form, the response you received from your military finance office, and a copy of your DD 214 or equivalent to your agency payroll office.

They’ll be able to determine how much you owe, plus accrued interest, if applicable. Depending on how long the gap is between when you serviced and when you get an estimate of what you owe from your payroll office, you may either be pleasantly surprised or dumbfounded.

The decision about whether to make a deposit for your military service is one you’ll have to make based on what you’ll get in return for what you’ll have to give.

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance programs at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to, and view his blog at


Credit for reserve active duty

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Q. I am a retired navy reservist and have been a civil servant since 2003.  In 2003, I prepared a package of my active time and submitted it to the Navy and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, following the proper procedures. I submitted a check for the full amount that was in the package.

The package, approved by the Navy and DFAS, included several DD Forms 214 and many Active duty days (regular annual 2 week periods plus additional active duty time).  Excluded were regular reserve weekend drills.  I paid in full for the time calculated by the Navy and DFAS.  My service computation date was adjusted per the package.

Now, the HR department where I work (Veterans Affairs) has reopened the package and wants to disallow all active duty days not covered by a DD Form 214. Meaning, disregard all other active duty days.

What active type days are creditable for retirement in the civil service? Read the rest of this entry »

Processes for disability retirement

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Q. I’m a 37 year old federal law enforcement agent Series 1811.  I have a medical condition that has affected my vision and likely cannot be corrected to the standards required by my agency without lengthy, involved treatment. Even though my eyesight has never affected my job, I qualify expert with my weapon and they are sending me to firearms instructor training, even as they say my eyesight is horrible.  If in fact, the doctors tell me that I can’t correct my eyesight enough, will my agency force me into medical retirement?  Can they give me another job?  Do they have to keep paying me at my current pay rate?  I’m a GS-12 with 15+ years combined federal service and active military time (which I have bought back).

Read the rest of this entry »

Creditable military service: Part 1

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In order for military service to be considered creditable for civilian retirement purposes, you must have done one of the following:

 Served on active duty in the armed forces, which are defined as the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard and, after June 30, 1960, in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service or, after June 30, 1961, in the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration;

Served as a cadet in the Army, Air Force or Coast Guard academies or as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy;

Been called to active duty or active duty for training while in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps or the Naval or Marine Corps Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Service in the U.S. Merchant Marine is not considered to be military service. Nor, as a rule, is service in a reserve component of the armed forces or the National Guard, unless you were called to active duty in the service of the United States.

How Social Security affects creditability
Since January 1, 1957, everyone serving in the military has been covered by Social Security. And, since January 1, 1984, every civilian newly hired by the federal government (or returning to work after a break in service) has been covered by Social Security. In 1982 the law was changed to prevent employees from getting credit twice for the same period of employment – once from Social Security and the other from a civilian annuity. The result was two sets of rules. One for those first hired before October 1, 1982 and another for those hired on or after that date.

Hired before October 1, 1982
If you were first hired before October 1, 1982, you will get credit for your military service time in determining your eligibility to retire. You’ll also have the option of making a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get credit for that post-1956 service in the computation of your annuity.

Whether you actually need to make a deposit depends on your eligibility for a Social Security benefit. OPM only checks once: at age 62 if you are retired before that age or when you retire, if it’s on or after the date on which you are 62.

If you are eligible for a Social Security benefit when OPM checks and you haven’t made a deposit for your active duty service, those years will be deducted from your total years of creditable service and your annuity recomputed without them. If you haven’t made a deposit and aren’t eligible for a Social Security benefit when OPM checks, your annuity won’t be affected.

Hired on or after October 1, 1982
If you were hired on or after October 1, 1982, you will only get credit for your military service if you make a deposit to the civilian retirement system for that time. If you don’t, it won’t be used either to determine your eligibility to retire or in your annuity computation. So, when you do retire, your annuity will be based solely on your years of civilian employment.

Special rules for retired military
If you are receiving military retired pay for you active duty service, it doesn’t make any difference when you were hired as a civilian. You’ll have to make a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get credit for that service and, with one exception, waive your military retired pay before you retire.

Here’s the exception. You can keep your military retired pay if you were awarded it because of a service-connected disability either incurred in combat with an enemy of the United States or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war.

On the other hand, if you are receiving – or will be receiving – reserve retired pay, you won’t have to waive that pay. However, you’ll need to review the rules spelled out above to determine if you need to make a deposit to get credit for any periods of active duty service that occurred within your reserve career.

When called to active duty
If you are called to active duty while employed by the federal government and are placed on Leave Without Pay–Uniformed Service (LWOP-US), that period of time will be governed by the same rules that apply to all employees who want to get credit for periods of active duty military service. You’ll have to make a deposit for the entire period of your absence on LWOP-US to get credit for that time after you return to your civilian position.

However, there are situations where a deposit won’t be required. For example, if you take annual leave or if you are approved for regular leave without pay. If you are approved for regular LWOP, you can take up to six months leave within a calendar year and get credit for that time without having to make a deposit. However, any period of absence beyond that can’t be credited for any purpose nor can a deposit be made to get credit for it.

In the next column I’ll talk about how much you’ll have to pay to get credit for your military service and how you can go about doing it.

CFC in retirement

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Q. Can I still contribute by payroll deductions to my favorite charity through the Combined Federal Campaign after I retire?

Read the rest of this entry »

Step level information

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Q. Where can I find my SF-52 step level information?

Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t let these 5 mistakes disrupt your plans

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During turbulent times, the thoughts of many employees turn to retirement. If you are one of them, I want to alert you to some of the mistakes you can make on your way out the door. Fortunately, most of them can be avoided.

1. Not being able to carry your FEHB or FEGLI coverage into retirement.

To carry your health benefits coverage into retirement, you must have been enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program for the five consecutive years before you retire (or from your first opportunity to enroll). If you don’t meet that requirement, you’ll be out in the cold unless you are offered an early retirement opportunity and were enrolled in the FEHB program before the latest authority was approved for your agency.

To carry your life insurance into retirement, you must have been enrolled in the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program for five consecutive years before you retire (or from your first opportunity to enroll). Unlike the FEHB program, the law doesn’t provide for a waiver.

2. Not getting credit for all service.

Whether you are covered by the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System, your eligibility to retire and the amount of your annuity will depend on how much creditable service you have on the day you retire.

Don’t overlook credit for less common periods of civilian service. Among these are service in the Peace Corps, serving as a volunteer under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, working as a substitute carrier for the Postal Service and having a temporary appointment. You’ll usually have to make a deposit to the retirement fund to have it included in your annuity computation, but it may be worth it.

Active-duty military service is considered creditable service if you follow the rules. If you are a FERS employee, you’ll only get credit if you make a deposit to the retirement fund. The same is true if you are a CSRS employees who was hired on or after Oct.1, 1982. If you were hired before then, you can decide if you want to make a deposit. If you don’t and are eligible for a Social Security benefit at age 62 (or when you retire if it’s after age 62), your annuity recomputed without your military service.

3. Not taking age-reduction penalties into account.

If you are a CSRS employee who is offered an opportunity to retire early, your annuity will be reduced by 2 percent for every year you are under age 55. There isn’t any penalty if you are a FERS early retiree. However, if you retire under the MRA+10 Provision (minimum retirement age with at least 10 but fewer than 30 years of service), your annuity will be reduced by 5 percent for every year you are under age 62, unless you have 20 years of service and retire at age 60 or later.

4. Not accounting for the WEP.

If you are covered by CSRS (or FERS and will have a CSRS component in your annuity) and will also be eligible for a Social Security benefit, you’ll be subject to the windfall elimination provision. The WEP reduces the Social Security benefit of anyone receiving an annuity — in whole or part — from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes and has fewer than 30 years of substantial earnings under Social Security.

5. Not accounting for the GPO.

If you are going to be receiving an annuity from a system where you didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as CSRS, and your spouse has been working in the private sector, when he or she becomes eligible for a Social Security benefit, the government pension offset will cause your Social Security spousal benefit to be reduced by $1 for every $3 in your CSRS annuity.

How to elect an insurable interest survivor annuity

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If you are a retiring Civil Service Retirement System or Federal Employees Retirement System employee in good health who wants to provide a federal survivor benefit to a person who wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to receive one, you can elect an insurable interest annuity. “Insurable interest” is an insurance term that applies to a person who would benefit financially by your continuing to be alive.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, those who are presumed to have an insurable interest in you are your spouse, a blood or adoptive relative closer than a first cousin, a former spouse, someone to whom you are engaged to be married, someone with whom you would be considered to be in a common-law marriage in a place that recognizes such arrangements, and a same-sex domestic partner. If you’d like to provide an insurable interest annuity to someone who doesn’t fit into one of the above categories, you can submit affidavits from people who have personal knowledge of your relationship.

To be eligible to elect an insurable interest annuity, you’ll need to be in good health, which you prove by having a medical exam.

The cost of an insurable interest annuity depends on two things: the difference between your age and that of the beneficiary, and the amount of your annuity that can be used as a base. The latter will vary depending on whether there is anyone else who has an entitlement to a survivor benefit, such as a current or a former spouse, and how much of your annuity you intend to provide.

To compute the reduction in your own annuity, you need to determine how much of it is available. If there are no other claimants, that would be your entire base annuity before any deductions are taken out. Multiply the figure you come up with by the following percentages: 10 percent if the survivor is the same age, older than, or less than 5 years younger than you; 15 percent if 5 to 9 years younger; 20 percent if 10 to 14 years younger; 25 percent if 15 to 19 years younger; 30 percent if 20 to 24 years younger; 35 percent if 25 to 29 years younger; 40 percent if 30 or more years younger.

The product will be the amount by which your own annuity will be reduced. Regardless of the size of that reduction, a full benefit will always be 55 percent of your own annuity after it has been reduced to provide the insurable interest annuity, while a partial benefit will be 55 percent of the base amount you elect.

To make it simple, here are two examples where the retiring federal employee is either single or is not required to provide a survivor annuity for either a current or former spouse.

Example 1: Maximum insurable interest annuity. Unreduced annuity: $60,000. Retiree’s age: 58. Beneficiary’s age: 56. Annuity reduction: $6,000 ($60,000 times 0.10). Retiree’s new annuity: $54,0000 ($50,000 to $6,000). Amount of insurable interest annuity: $29,700 (55 percent of the annuity base of $54,000).

Example 2: Modest insurable interest annuity. Unreduced annuity: $60,000. Amount of annuity elected as the base: $20,000. Retiree’s age: 58. Beneficiary’s current age: 56. Annuity reduction: $2,000 ($20,000 by 0.10). Retiree’s new annuity: $58,000 ($60,000 to $2,000). Amount of insurable interest annuity: $11,000 (55 percent of the annuity base of $20,000).

It’s important to note that it won’t provide the survivor with coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, unless the survivor is entitled to that benefit by being covered under the family option of your FEHB plan when you die.

How RIFs affect the SES

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In my last column, I reviewed the rules governing reductions in force for everyone except members of the Senior Executive Service. This time, I’ll describe the rules governing them.

To begin with, an agency must lay out a plan that explains how its RIF procedures work and how they will affect members of the SES. Like the rules for other employees, the first steps are to establish competitive areas and retention registers. After that, the rules differ significantly from those applying to other employees.

Competitive areas

As a first step, your agency must define the area of competition. While it may designate the entire agency, it has the option of confining it to one or more major components of the agency. Note: For this purpose, an agency is defined as a Cabinet department (such as the Department of Defense or the Department of Agriculture) or an independent agency (such as the General Services Administration, the Security and Exchange Commission or the Office of Personnel Management).

Retention registers

Once it has defined the competitive area or areas, your agency must place you and other affected SESers in retention registers. These are based on performance and other factors included in its RIF plan. To see what those are, check with your agency personnel office.

If you are unfortunate enough to be an SESer with the lowest retention standing, you’ll be identified for RIF.

Placement rights

If you are identified for RIF, you are entitled to be placed in any SES position in your agency for which you are qualified. It’s important to understand that this right to placement is within your entire agency, not just the component originally established as the competitive area.

If there isn’t any position within the agency in which you can be placed, your agency head has to certify that fact to OPM in writing. From that point forward, OPM is responsible for providing placement assistance. However, your agency still isn’t off the hook. While OPM is providing assistance, the agency must continue to try to place you within the agency.

RIF notices

By now, you’re wondering if all of this happens without your being informed about what’s going on. The answer is no.

You are entitled to one notice, and maybe a second. The first lets you know that you’ve been released from the retention register and can’t be placed in your agency. It has to be given to you at least 45 days before you are removed from the SES.

You get the second notice only if OPM notifies your agency that it was unsuccessful in finding you a job. That notice is given one day before your removal date.

What happens next?

If OPM is unsuccessful in finding you an SES position in another agency, your agency will have to remove you from your position and place you in a vacant GS-15 position. If your agency doesn’t have a vacant GS-15 position, it will have to create one for you.

You can either accept the downgrading or appeal that decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Alternatively, if you meet the eligibility requirements, you may take a discontinued service retirement (DSR).

I’ll be writing about DSRs and other matters relating to those who are affected by a RIF in my next column.

What you should know about RIFs

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As sequestration tightens its hold and Congress carves away at agency budgets, losing your job is a distinct possibility. To be prepared, you need to have a clear understanding of the rules governing reductions-in-force (RIFs).

Every agency has to follow RIF procedures, which require them to establish competitive areas, competitive levels and retention registers. Here is what you need to know:

Competitive areas

Competitive areas are the geographical or organizational limits within which you’ll be competing for retention — in other words, keeping your job. A competitive area can consist of all or part of an agency. However, it can’t be any smaller than a subdivision of your agency, which is under separate administration within a local commuting area.

Competitive levels

Employees with the same employment characteristics are put in competitive levels. Each level consists of interchangeable positions with similar grades, series, qualifications, duties and working conditions. When positions have different types of work schedules, such as part-time, intermittent or seasonal, they are placed in different competitive levels.

Retention registers

Employees are put on retention registers in rank order using four  factors: tenure, veterans’ preference, length of service and performance. Tenure is divided into three groups based on type of appointment. Group I is made up of career employees who aren’t serving a probationary period. Group II is made up of employees who are serving a probationary period and career-conditional employees. Group III is employees serving under term appointments and others without status.

Veterans’ preference is also divided into three categories within the above groups. Subgroup AD consists of veterans with a compensable service-connected disability of 30 percent or more. Subgroup A includes any veterans not assigned to subgroup AD. Subgroup B consists of non-veterans and veterans who aren’t eligible for preference. In other words, everyone else.

Length of service

Within each of these subgroups, you will be ranked by your service computation date (SCD). Your SCD will be based on your creditable civilian, plus any additional service credit granted for the quality of your performance (see below). Credit for active-duty military or non-appropriated fund service may be added under certain circumstances, such as having served during a war declared by Congress.


Extra service credit may be awarded based on the average of your last three annual performance ratings of record. If you had fewer than three ratings, the ones you did receive will be averaged. If the averaging results in a fraction, the number is rounded up to the next whole number.

While there are a variety of performance rating systems, a commonly used one would assign credit as follows:

20 additional years for an “Outstanding” rating.

16 additional years for an “Exceeds Fully Successful” rating.

12 additional years for a “Fully Successful” rating.

For example, if you received two “Exceeds Fully Successful” and one “Fully Successful” rating, you’d be credited with 16 additional years (16+16+12 ÷ 3 = 14.6, which would be rounded to 15).

Order of release

Employees are released from the retention register in the inverse order of their retention standing — the person with the lowest standing is the first to be hit by the RIF.

Rights to other positions

Employees in Groups I and II who are rated at least “Minimally Successful” and who have “bumping” or “retreating” rights are entitled to be assigned to an available position in the same competitive area. To be considered “available,” a position must be expected to last at least three months, be in the competitive service, be one for which you qualify, and be within three grades  of your present position.

Vacant positions

Your agency isn’t required to offer you a vacant position in a RIF. If it does, it will have to follow subgroup retention standings. Such an offer must be in the same competitive area and within three grades of your  current position.

Next time I’ll talk about the retirement options open to those who receive a RIF notice.

Retirement date and annual leave

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Q. I am a CSRS employee and plan to retire Jan. 1, 2015 (I will be 55 with 33 years of service). I know that I will be paid for my accrued annual leave, but will I be paid an additional 240 hours of annual leave since I will be retiring in January?

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Locality pay

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Q. Is there a minimum number of days per pay period that an employee must work at his assigned duty station (duty station as it appears on the SF-52) to qualify for locality pay in that area? I live in one state, and my wife in another (long story). I try to get home once a month by taking a combination of a few days of annual leave and a few telework days. I have heard that to qualify for locality pay, a person must work in that area a minimum of two days per pay period (which seems more than reasonable, and even lenient).

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Active-duty military service and leave accrual

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Q. Does active-duty time for basic training, AIT and PLDC (now WLC or some such thing) count for leave accrual in a GS job with the USDA when it was done as a member of the National Guard? Is it generally done under title 32 or title 10? I assume my one-year deployment to Iraq also counts for leave accrual and for buyback purposes. I have no idea where the orders are for the three periods in question (yes, I could request copies), but they appear to be included in box 12d (total prior active service) of the dd214 from the deployment.

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Military and law enforcement service and retirement

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Q. I am a veteran with six years of active-duty service, and I am employed as a federal law enforcement official with seven years of service under FERS. I am considering leaving federal service. Am I eligible for any retirement benefits after age 62, or do I simply lose the 13 years that I have in military and civilian service?

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