Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Military service, buyback and retirement money

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Q. I served five years and six months active duty in the Air Force from January 1989 to July 1994. In 1996, I joined the Air National Guard. I am in the Air Guard and have 24 years of service with eight years’ active-duty time. In 1999, I became a full-time federal law enforcement officer. In seven years, I will be 50 and have 21 years’ covered federal law enforcement. If I buy back my military time to get additional federal retirement, will I still be able to receive my military retirement at 60? Or am I better off not buying back my active-duty time? Also, how does the supplemental Social Security payment factor in until I am eligible to receive full Social Security?

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Military and federal retirements

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Q. I retired from the Marine Corps after 21 years of service in 2002, and I’m working with the State Department. I have 10 years of service with the department and plan to do 20 years and retire from the department at 59. Can I earn separate retirements, or do I need to combine my military time with foreign service time when I retire from the department?

A. Yes, you can earn two separate retirements.

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Military and civilian retirements

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Q. I am receiving a military retirement check from Army for 20 years of service. I have been a civilian civil service employee for 20 years and am eligible to retire. Can I receive another retirement check as a civilian government employee besides the military retirement check?

A. Yes, you can continue to receive your military retired pay and an annuity based solely on your civilian service.

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Disability, military and federal service, and retirement

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Q. I retired in 1993 with 24 years of service and 30 percent disability. I am a government employee under FERS with 12 years. When I retire, will I able to receive both FERS and my military retirement pay without a reduction in pay?

A. You would be able to receive your military retired pay and an annuity based solely on your years of actual FERS service.

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Federal and military employment and retirement

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Q. Hello, I have seen many questions about getting credit for military service when retiring under FERS, but I wonder if it works the other way, too. If a person was in the military, separated from service and worked for the federal government under FERS, and then went back into the military, is his FERS time creditable to his military retirement?

A. No.

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Military and federal service and retirement

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Q. I am looking at a job with the USPS. I have 10 years of active-duty service in the Air Force and three or four good years in the Reserve. I never reached 20 years to receive military retirement. How do these years in military service apply toward retirement and benefits if I get a job with the USPS? Do I have to buy back these years if I never received retirement, and how does that work? Then how long would I need the USPS job to gain retirement from the USPS?

A. If you worked for the federal government, you would only receive credit for you active-duty service if you made a deposit to the civilian retirement system. To be vested in the civilian retirement system and eligible for a retirement benefit, you’d have to have five years of full-time service. Any active-duty service for which you made a deposit would be added to that. To retire, you’d need one of the following age and service combinations: 62 and 5, 60 and 20, your minimum retirement age (MRA) and 30 or your MRA+10, but with a 5 percent reduction for every year you were younger than age 62.

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Using federal service toward military retirement

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Q. I worked one year at the veterans hospital in Palo Alto, then joined the Navy. I am exploring retirement from the Navy after 26 years of good service. Can I link my federal service toward military retirement? Every year of military service means 2.5 percent more toward retirement. Most people are asking about the opposite.

A. No.

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Military service and leave accrual

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Q. I recently retired from the military with 23½ years of active duty. This included combat duty in Iraq. I have started employment as a federal GS employee within the past 60 days. Does my veteran status entitle me to more than the basic four hours of annual leave per pay period?

A. According to OPM, “For leave accrual, retirees receive credit only for: actual service during a war declared by Congress (includes World War II covering the period Dec. 7, 1941, to April 28, 1952) or while participating in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized; or all active duty when retirement was based on a disability received as a direct result of armed conflict or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war as defined in 38 U.S.C. 101(11). ‘Period of war’ includes World War II, the Korean conflict, Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, or the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.”

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MRA

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Q. I served in the Marine Corps active duty from 1975-1987, then in December 1987 became a civil servant under FERS as a special agent (1811) until I retired in 2009 with 21 years of civil service. I bought back my 12½ years of active-duty military time, giving me 33½ years of federal service at age 51 (I was 17 when I joined the Marines).

I stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves with 20 good years and will start to draw my military retirement annuity at age 60.

I am 55. What is my MRA? I receive the special retirement supplement now (retired under the law enforcement/firefighter special provision); will it end when I am 56? Or if my MRA is 62, will it end then and will I begin to draw my full Social Security annuity?

A. You were born in 1968, so your minimum retirement age is 56 years and eight months. However, because you were a law enforcement officer, you were entitled to receive the special retirement supplement on the day you retired. The SRS will stop when you reach age 62, at which time you’ll be eligible for a Social Security benefit. If you apply for it at that time, the benefit will be 30 percent less than it would be if you had waited until you were older. Because you were born in 1968, your full Social Security retirement age is 67.

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FERS, buyback and military retirement

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Q. I am a FERS employee and had 10 years of active-duty military time before becoming a federal employee. I bought this time back. Now I have 14 years as a federal employee and the 10 years of military time.

My understanding is that under FERS, the military time is creditable service up front — i.e., I have 24 years of creditable service for retirement purposes. Is this correct? Based on what I have read, in six years I will have 30 years of service (10 military/20 FERS) and therefore will be eligible for my full retirement at my MRA (56 years 10 months, as I was born in 1969), no reductions for time/age.

Is this also correct? Finally, I am a naval reservist and will obtain 20 creditable years in the interim (10 years’ active duty/10 years’ reserve). I will be eligible to receive these benefits at age 60. Are both distinct/separate retirements? Will there be any reductions/offsets to one based on the other?

A. Yes, military service for which you’ve made a deposit is considered creditable service and, for retirement purposes, is treated the same as your actual FERS service. When you have 30 years of combined service and reach your MRA, you can retire on an immediate, unreduced annuity. Your reserve retirement is separate and distinct from your FERS service. As a result, you will be able to receive both retirement benefits without a reduction in either.

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Military and federal retirement

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Q. I have applied for a federal job. I served 25 years in the Army Reserve and am receiving VA disability due to Iraq injuries. If hired for the federal job, will I be able to receive a retirement based on the length of service in the new federal job?

A. If you want to know if you will get credit for your active-duty service when you become a federal employee, the answer is no unless you make a deposit to the civilian retirement system and, when you retire from that job, waive your military retired pay.

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Military retirement and civilian options

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Q. I am an Air National Guardsman with more than 30 years of service and a dual-status federal technician. I have bought back my military time, so with everything, I have almost 29 years’ federal civil service. I am 52, so I’m about four years away from my minimum retirement age. Due to some health issues, I’ve very recently been put in a “not eligible for worldwide service” category and will have to go to a medical evaluation board. If militarily retired, I know I will lose my technician position. How will these scenarios affect my retirements?

A. To see what your civilian options are, go to www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C046.pdf and scroll to either Part46A (CSRS) or 46B (FERS). Because this is a site for civilian employees of the federal government, I’m unable to tell you what your options would be for military retirement. You’ll have to check with the personnel office in your branch of service.

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Multiple retirement checks?

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Q: Can you earn two federal retirements? For example, a military and a civil service retirement?

A: Yes. Each will be based on its own period of service and computed under its own rules.

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Military service and FERS supplement

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Q: I retired Sept. 29, 2010, under discontinued service as a National Guard Technician and am eligible for an immediate annuity. My military service was from September 1977 through April 1984 (6 ½ years) and my tech service time was from Aug. 11, 1985, through Sept. 29, 2010 (just over 25 years). My military time has been bought back. I was born in 1959 and was 51 years old and 3 months when I retired. Will I get the FERS supplement?

A: Yes, you’ll be eligible for the special retirement supplement when you reach your minimum retirement age, which is 56. Your SRS will be based solely on the years you were a FERS employee. The active duty time for which you paid a deposit will not be included.

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Buying back military time

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Q: If I buy back my military time, can I collect both military retirement and Federal Employees Retirement System benefits?

My situation is this: I am 58 years old, and I started a job with the federal government Sept. 26, 2010. My prior military service consists of nine years on active duty and 14 years in the reserves. I have submitted the forms to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and have received my cost calculation to buy back my active-duty years.

I am eligible to collect my military retirement when I turn 60. I plan to continue working for the federal government until age 70, which would give me 12 years of actual federal service plus the buyback of the nine active-duty years. Can I collect my military retirement at age 60 as scheduled, and when I retire at age 70, collect both retirements? Is that considered double-dipping, because the nine active-duty years are used to complete the required military time to qualify for retirement?

I have read answers that go both ways; some say I can collect both, others say I will need to sign a waiver to decline my military retirement pay in lieu of FERS pay. If the latter is the case, does that mean I can collect my military retirement until such time that I retire from federal service, then sign a waiver to decline further military retirement and receive FERS pay? If that is so, is that financially to my benefit?

A: Because you are retiring from the reserves, making a deposit for your years of active-duty service won’t have any affect on the timing or amount of your reserve retired pay. It will be used to increase your years of civilian service and be used in your annuity calculation. Only members of the military who are retiring from active duty are required to both make a deposit for that time and waive their military retired pay.

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Army Reserve benefits and military buyback

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Q: I have 31 years in the Army, six years of which is active duty, and I’m still on reserve status. I’ve been working at a Veterans Affairs Department hospital for more than 20 years and plan to stay there until I have 30 years of service. I’m presently buying back the six years of active-duty time, and it is going to cost $12,000. First of all, is it worth it for me to buy back this time? I have heard when you retire from the federal government, you will only get either your federal retirement with your active-duty buyback time added, or you will get your military retirement, but not both. I am wondering if it is in my best interest to buy back this active-duty time, and if I do, will I get both my Army Reserve retirement and my federal retirement, or just one of those two? If I only get one, how to I figure out which one to take?

A: It will be easier for you to make a decision after I clear up a misunderstanding: Making a deposit to get credit for your years of active-duty service in you civilian annuity won’t have any affect on your Army Reserve retired pay. You’ll be able to receive both benefits without a reduction in either of them.

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Veterans and federal employment

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Q: I just recently became employed as a GS. In reviewing my Notification of Personnel Action form (SF-50), I had a number of questions which I asked of our human resources personnel: The form indicated I have no veterans’ preference and no creditable years of military service, though I have almost 25 years of service. The response I received was that I would have to surrender my pay and purchase the years of military service if I want to have it credited for civilian service. I have no intention of doing this. I was referred to the Office of Personnel Management VetGuide, which did not answer my questions. Can you tell me what is correct?

A: Unless your branch of service confirms that your military retired pay was awarded on account of a service-connected disability either incurred in combat with an enemy of the U.S. or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war, your HR personnel are correct. Even if they do confirm that, you’d need to make a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get any credit for that period of active-duty service.

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Military buyback 101

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Q: Can an active-duty service member roll his retirement into government service and add those years together with existing military service years? This was possible 20 years ago or so, but I was wondering whether it still is an option. I’m a 27-year veteran about to retire, and I’d rather go straight into government service and forego my retirement check from the military, if that is possible.

A: Nothing has changed. You can make a deposit to the civilian retirement system for any years of active-duty service and, if you are eligible for military retired pay, waive that pay when you retire. If you do that, you will get credit for all your years of active duty in determining your years of civilian service and in your civilian annuity computation. Note: To be eligible to retire from your civilian job, you’d need to have five years of actual employment under the civilian retirement system.

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Post-military state employment

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Q: I retired from the Navy after serving 20 years. I now work for the state of Georgia. Will my service in state government be the same as working for the federal government? Can I receive a pension from the state after 10 years (which will be 30 years of total service, in 2018)?

A: No, it won’t be the same as working for the federal government. The two forms of employment aren’t interchangeable. You’ll have to check with your state to find out if any of your military service would be creditable and what the requirements are to retire from state employment with a pension.

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Buying back academy time

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Q: My question is about how or if the years served at a service academy (the Air Force Academy, in my case) may be credited as years of active-duty service upon active-duty retirement. I understand that those years may be “bought back” if I am counting those years toward a civilian federal retirement under the Federal Employees Retirement System, but what about active-duty military retirement? May those years be bought back?

A: A deposit into the civilian retirement system may be made to get credit for time spent at one of the military academies. Similarly, a deposit may be made to get credit for active-duty service; however, in most cases, anyone who retires from the military (not from the reserves) must waive his military retired pay when he retires from his civilian job.

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