Here's Why The Military's New Retirement System May Not Be So Bad

Military Benefits

The military retirement system has recently been revamped in a big way. Instead of giving retirees the traditional 50% of base pay after 20 years of service, the new plan is a more complicated “blended system” — a mixture of a defined-benefit pension starting at 40% pay for 20 years' service, plus a 401K-style Thrift Savings Plan with matching contributions that individuals can take with them even if they leave the service early. That’s a big step forward, especially for the 83% of enlisted servicemembers who don’t stay long enough to earn the traditional 20-year pension.


But the 17% of enlisted servicemembers and 49% of officers who stay in for 20 years form much of the military’s leadership, and this change has the potential to disrupt their lives in a big way.

Currently, people leave the military at a fairly steady rate, up until the 10-year mark. But after that, they tend to stay the distance to 20 years. Very few forfeit a half-million dollars or more in retirement money once they’re more than halfway there.

This shift — towards making the 20-year pension less valuable while increasing portable retirement savings — will change that equation. If the prize at the end of the road is worth less and individuals have a decent TSP nest egg to build on, a lot more of them will take the chance to leave while they are still young. There’s now even more potential for what might be called adverse selection among those making decisions around the 10 year mark.

The majority of those new military-leavers will likely be veterans who think they can get a decent job with potential for advancement, i.e. your go-getters. This phenomenon always existed with the 20-year cliff vesting, but behavior in large groups is always the product of activity at the margins — and the new retirement system is a significant change that the military has to get “left of bang” on, before it causes manpower issues among mid-grade officers and staff NCOs.

For starters, the military can use the new retirement system as a way to get rid of personnel who are already retired — or acting like it, anyway. There’s a large number of mid-grade officers and staff NCOs who know they aren’t going anywhere, but who just punch the clock until they hit 20. That’s so common, it has its own acronym: ROAD — “retired on active duty.”

Because of the huge prize offered to lifers under the current 50%-or-nothing system, the military is generally loath to separate people after the 10-year mark. But a reduction in the “cliff” of cliff vesting means that downsizing hangers-on can become a little less cruel and more manageable. The military can get rid of some deadwood and concentrate on those continuing to give their utmost.

But the new system could offer servicemembers a lot more flexibility in their pipelines. The plan reduces the difference between the defined benefit portion of active-duty and reserve pensions — and the TSP savings are entirely portable, in and out of the military. This means there’s an opportunity to embrace alternative career paths.

Take the “Force of the Future” initiative, put out by former Defense Secretary Carter — it’s been on life support in the current administration. That program advocated restructuring career paths to allow more flexibility. The phase-in period of the new retirement system is a chance for parts of it to be resurrected.

Two major elements of his plan involved allowing career sabbaticals and increasing permeability between the active and reserve forces. It would provide members a chance to take a few years off or on weekend duty in the military to pursue outside career interests, education, or care for family. It would also allow easier transitions to and from the reserves back to active duty without negative career repercussions.

Many service members who might otherwise take advantage of unconventional career paths, whether under the current system or Force of the Future, wonder whether they’ll be left high and dry, retirement-wise, after taking any kind of a break from a cookie-cutter active-duty career track. Having a TSP nest egg makes that less of a concern. The military could even sweeten the pot by continuing to match TSP contributions under the new system during sabbaticals outside the military, perhaps making full vesting contingent upon returning. That would make such breaks popular options, rather than strange side-journeys.

The same could be true for switching between the active and reserve forces. The difference between the defined benefit portion of active and reserve pensions is reduced under the new system, while the foundation of a portable TSP with matching contributions remains either way.

As in the civilian workforce, members might transition from job to job — and come back to active duty after accumulating valuable experience, possibly while keeping their skills sharp in the reserves. That whole time, they’d still be building their retirement fund.

In the private sector, leaving a job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dead to that company. If you go to school or take a job somewhere else, you often get a chance to come back (presuming you left on good terms), sometimes at a higher level than before. The military would be well-served by adopting a similar perspective. Retirement reform has the potential to help make this happen.

Diversity of experience and adaptability will be essential to fighting wars in the 21st century. War is no longer just about killing enemies and capturing territory. It includes fields that the American military, at least, has neglected, like cyberwarfare, sophisticated use of propaganda, and political subversion. Senior military leaders will need much broader work and educational experience than they’ve had in the past.

If done poorly, the new blended retirement system might simply be another reduction in benefits for long-serving individuals, similar to what civilian government employees have seen over the years. If done right, though, it could be an opportunity to make servicemembers smarter, more agile, and better prepared for the threats of the future, while allowing more veterans to leave the service with a sound foundation of retirement savings.

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U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Matthew Gilmore
(Photo: CNN/screenshot)

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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"There appears to be an increase in high-risk behaviors among service members; that is, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner," Air Force physician Maj. Dianne Frankel said in a news release.

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Three Marines killed in a December plane crash are finally coming home.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Hercules and one Marine on an F/A-18 Hornet were killed when both planes went down about 200 miles off the Japanese coast.

A recent salvage operation of the KC-130J crash site recovered the remains of three of the Marines, who were later identified, Corps officials said.

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(YouTube via Air Force Times)

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Air Force is investigating an airman after he posted a video on YouTube rife with homophobic slurs and insults.

A man in an Air Force uniform, identified only by the YouTube username "Baptist Dave 1611" ranted in a recent video, calling gay people "sodomites," "vermin scum," and "roaches" among other slurs, according to Air Force Times, which first reported the story Wednesday.

"The specifics of the situation are being reviewed by the airman's command team," said service spokesman Maj Nick Mercurio, confirming the incident. Mercurio did not provide any identifying details about the airman.

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Two U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, defense officials have announced.

Operation Resolute Support issued a terse news release announcing the latest casualties that did not include any information about the circumstances of their deaths.

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