How Does Military Involuntary Separation Pay Work?

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Much like any other job where one might be laid off or terminated for reasons beyond their control, not every member of the military is discharged on their terms. This is especially true during force reductions or draw-downs. 

Base pay is the same across all service branches and is based on rank and time in service. Pay raises are given based on years of service. The pay scales for enlisted members and officers vary based on the amount of responsibility and rank.

So if you're involuntarily separated from the military, are you eligible for severance pay? In some circumstances, yes. But there are several criteria which must be met. Of course, you should verify your eligibility with your commanding officer, and make sure you don't already receive any severance pay.

How to Qualify

The rates of pay vary for enlisted members by grade and change annually. Be advised that this is considered taxable income, and taxes are withheld at a rate of around 20 percent. 

To be eligible at all, a military member must have six or more years of active duty, and less than 20 years.

There are two types of pay:

  • Full Pay
  • Half Pay

Here's which factors qualify you for each:

  • Full Pay: The member must be involuntarily separated, be fully qualified for retention and the service must be characterized as "honorable." Examples would be a separation due to a reduction in force, or separation due to exceeding the high year of tenure.
  • Half Pay: The member must be involuntarily separated, with service characterized as honorable or general under honorable conditions. There are several reasons for discharge that would be disqualifying for half pay, however. 

Disqualifying Factors

There are a few situations which make a military member ineligible for half severance pay.

If the member is:

  • Separated from active duty at his own request.
  • Separated from active duty during an initial term of enlistment or an initial period of obligated service.
  • Released from active duty for training or from full-time National Guard duty for training.
  • Immediately eligible for separation for retired or retainer pay based on his or her military service.
  • A warrant officer whose appointment is terminated and who then elects to enlist.
  • Separated as a result of the execution of a court-martial sentence.
  • Being separated under other than honorable conditions.
  • An enlisted member separated for unsatisfactory performance or misconduct.
  • An officer separated for substandard performance or acts of misconduct or moral or professional dereliction.

A regular officer having twice failed to qualify for a promotion is not entitled to separation pay if that officer is selected for and declines continuation on active duty for a period that is equal to or more than the amount of service required to qualify the officer for retirement. 

Understanding Future Obligations to the Military

Your situation is likely to vary, so be sure you fully understand what you're eligible for before you sign any documentation. Once you sign, you're making your severance from the military final.

And under some circumstances, you may be required to fulfill a future commitment to the branch of the service for which you enlisted, so be sure you know your obligations there as well.