By Dr. Keith Roxo, LCDR, MC(FS), USN*
My graduating class from the Naval Academy has just reached 20 years and the first in zone selection board for O-6 recently occurred. I was not in zone. This is because I am an O-4…for the second time. Even though I never had any intention of leaving active duty after my aviation contract, I did that very thing. Life has a way of intervening in our plans and we have to live and work within that reality. My reality was that at 10.5 years my spouse wanted me out. In hopes of averting marital disaster, I acquiesced and left active duty.
When I first arrived at the Naval Academy in 1994, the military didn’t even have the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The first enrollment period began in October 2001, 3.5 years after I was commissioned and more than 2/3rds of the way through my initial service obligation. Despite that, I was hooked for a bit longer as I was serving a concurrent obligation for an aviation contract that was eight years after my winging. I signed up for the TSP and have been contributing ever since. I was about to enter my first squadron and I was in the profession I had always wanted. I had no plans on leaving the military. If the Blended Retirement System (BRS) was available then I would not have switched and I would have been wrong given that I did leave active duty with no plan to return. As it turns out, my marriage failed anyway and I rejoined the military as a second time Ensign at USUHS.
By the time most physicians are able to leave, they are around half way to a retirement, as I was. I frequently tell people they shouldn’t leave the military for the money. You are giving up the ability to transfer the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the pension and the health benefit. Those are very valuable. But you shouldn’t stay for the money either. There is a lot that can happen between initially signing up for USUHS, HPSP, HSCP or FAP and when your commitment is up. Half way to a pension means you still have half to go. No amount of money is worth it if you are completely miserable and can do well enough in the civilian sector.
There have been countless articles that discuss the BRS (Editor – all of which can be seen here and here) and who, among the eligible, should or should not switch over to the new system. There are also numerous calculators that can show you, as best as possible, the actual number breakdown. However, few of these articles and calculators can account for the realities associated with leaving the military or staying until retirement eligibility. You never know what the next few years hold for you and how your goals in life may change, just as mine did.
This is why I recommend to all eligible people, who aren’t committed to well past 10 years, to make the switch to the BRS.
*The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or the United States Government.