Soldiers preparing for retirement often have a lot to think about and little time to prepare by the time they attend a retirement briefing, if they attend one at all.
The Army Reserve’s 81st Regional Support Command (RSC) is working to help make the preparation time smoother by partnering with VA’s Veterans Health Administration. A December retirement services event in Lexington, Kentucky, was the first time the RSC conducted an event at a VA medical center. Many of the attendees saw a lot of value in both the briefing and the partnership.
“I am comfortable at VA as a Veteran and the people that you need to talk to for many things are here at VA,” said Master Sgt. Loretta Cotham. “Not everyone lives close to a VA, so this is very convenient and helpful to connect with people to assist me through the process. I am grateful.”
The RSC conducts regular retirement services briefings throughout the year, seeing more than 1,300 soon-to-be and recently retired troops per year. They don’t just serve Army Reserve Soldiers, they assist National Guardsmen and Reservists from the Navy, Marines and Air Force. Spouses are encouraged to attend as well.
While seeking to better serve those who serve, the RSC team determined that teaming up with VA would benefit Servicemembers and both organizations. VA employees and select vendors that serve Reservists and Guardsmen can provide onsite assistance. The Servicemembers can also make contact with people and organizations onsite that can assist them through the retirement process.
This partnership helps the 81st and VA by sharing valuable information with each other, which results in the current information being passed on to their customers. The 81st RSC hopes to partner with the VA for all of its retirement events.
James Belmont Jr., associate director for the Lexington VA Medical Center, said VA is very happy with the partnership and he would like to see this become the model.
“There’s a dual benefit,” Belmont said. “One for the Army, where they can have a central facility where they can bring Servicemembers in to one place and from the VA’s perspective, we can reach the Veterans, and let them know about their health benefits. We can sign them up and advise them of their eligibility. Many Veterans don’t know there is dual eligibility. “
Servicemembers can receive military retirement healthcare through Tri-Care and are also eligible for VA benefits. Belmont wants to sign people up earlier, so that they know what they are entitled to and what they qualify for.
“The dual eligibility is always a surprise for retiring military members. We want to let them know about these benefits. These aren’t given, they’re earned.”
Cotham, the non-commisioned officer in charge of radiology for the 5th Medical Brigade in Birmingham, found out what she’s entitled to, how much her retirement will be, and that she is entitled to Veteran’s hiring preference and medical benefits she was not aware of.
“If you don’t think you need to attend these briefings, you are wrong,” said Cotham. “You need to make the time. This is yours. You’ve done these years and when you retire, it’s not a given you will get everything. If you don’t work to get it, you will lose it. It’s up to you.”
Cotham also has advice for Soldiers to consider earlier in their careers.
“Be mindful of all of your paperwork. Check into the system to ensure they have all of your paperwork and things are being updated on a regular basis. You have to be proactive in your own retirement to make everything work.”
For more information and resources, call the 81st RSC Retirement Service Officers at (803) 751-9864/9698 or you can contact Human Resources Service Center at (888) 276-9472, firstname.lastname@example.org. For information from VA call (800) 827-1000 or visit online at www.va.gov.
About the author: Michael P. Mascari is with the 81st Regional Support Command Public Affairs. Located at Fort Jackson, S.C., the 81st Regional Support Command is a Major Subordinate Command of the United States Army Reserve Command. The 81st RSC provides base operations support to nearly 600 Army Reserve units and 54,000 Soldiers located in 268 facilities in nine states and Puerto Rico.