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Deciphering Military Benefits

Both Leah and I were very disappointed when we talked this past Friday and she told me that Eric had found out the night before that he had to work on MLK day, and we would not be able to meet. She mentioned that this was typical of his work situation: Things are always unpredictable. Nevertheless, she had sent me everything I had requested, including updated balances on loans, and answers to a bunch of financial planning questions for the future. More on that later.

Her comment on Eric's job situation led me to share with her what I found out through my research on military benefits. I told her that I had been under the impression that of all people in this country, the government takes care of our armed forces and their families. I felt that most military families assume that "they don't have to plan for their future" as long as they stay in the military, as "the benefits are so great."

The truth is much more complicated. First of all, the rules are so extensive and variable that it is hard to get exact information on what happens if, for example, Eric dies in combat, or not in combat, Eric becomes disabled while in combat, or while not in combat. How much would he get paid? Will the family still have health insurance, if so, for how long? Would they still be eligible for the pension? What if he hasn't done the magical 20 years that qualify him for retirement when one of these events occurs? It's hard to decipher, and if it's hard for me to understand, someone with 23 years’ background in financial planning, how difficult it must be for the soldiers and their families!

So as with ALL OF MY CLIENTS who work for big corporations and mistakenly think, "I'll never get let go and this company has GREAT benefits, o I can rely on them," I have to highly recommend that Leah and Eric plan for additional retirement resources and get their own plan in place in case of any tragic events, to supplement what they will receive from the military. ALL military families should do this! One of the web sites I visited even stated that they always counsel the soldiers, that the military pension will not be enough to retire on alone, and they encourage saving additional funds through the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) available to them.

Lastly, a bigger mistake, would be to assume the military can't help in any given situation. There is a plethora of benefits available that would take a lifetime to understand, so I think it makes sense to always make a phone call to figure out if there are any benefits for your unique issue.