Midgrade Transition Tips

Our guest blog post was written by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gomez, CEO of First Person Xperience LLC, an education and training company focused on teaching Creativity, Adaptability, and Human Dynamics to National Defense Professionals. Gomez currently serves in the US Army Reserve as the Commander of the 384th Military Police Battalion. During his twenty years in service, Gomez served two combat tours in Iraq, two Special Operations deployments to the Pacific Theater, six years as an instructor, scenario designer, and course manager at the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and four years as the Instructor of Innovation and Creativity at Joint Special Operations University, United States Special Operations Command. Gomez also serves on the MSOFC Service Member & Veterans Wellness Advisory Board.

Navigating the transition from a military career can be a formidable challenge, particularly for mid-grade Officers and NCOs departing the service with 8 to 15 years of dedicated commitment. Unlike their counterparts exiting after 20 years, these individuals often find themselves in a distinct information gap, receiving less comprehensive support and guidance. In this dynamic landscape, the significance of three pivotal subjects becomes evident for transitioning service members (SMs): VA Disability, GI Bill benefits, and the intricate process of transitioning into the reserves. Addressing these topics is not just important—empowering these servicemen and women with the knowledge they need to navigate this critical phase of their lives successfully is essential.

VA Disability

Veterans injured or faced physical or mental hardship during service are entitled to compensation. This is not free money; this is money that the military is paying SMs for what their body and mind endured during their time in service. They broke it, they buy it. This compensation is paid for the rest of the SM’s life. A quick example: If a 30-year-old service member gets out after ten years of service, is married, has three children, and a dependent parent, they receive approximately $4,000 tax-free per month with a 100% disability rating. That is $48,000 a year, $480,000 in ten years, and $1,008,000 in 21 years. If the service member neglected to file for this rating, they would have lost $1 million by the time they were 50! A disability rating offers the servicemembers many perks, such as student debt relief, no VA Loan pre-payment, tax exemptions, and more! Four steps must be completed before transitioning to receive a VA disability rating:

  1. They must go to their medical provider and state what they are experiencing. FACT- Military culture looks down upon going to the doctor. Therefore, SMs DO NOT go to the doctor! The mission is always paramount, and seeking medical assistance is considered a weakness, culturally and professionally. SM often only goes to the doctor when bones are broken or when they are an inch from death. This will lead to an SM becoming irreparably broken during service and upon transition. Therefore, the first step is for the SM to go to the medical provider and state EVERYTHING they have experienced medically over their ENTIRE military service. This should be done no later than one year before an SM begins the transition. What this does is create a record. Ex. On this day, SM stated he has pain in his lower back, has consistent allergy symptoms, experiences headaches, has anxiety, etc. I recommend that all SMs get checked out for these common ailments: PTSD, Anxiety, Tinnitus, Rhinitis, Sleep Apnea, anything related to Burn pits, TBI, low libido, scarring, range of motion issues, shoulder/knee/ankle/back pain.
  2. Next, the SM needs the primary care provider to diagnose the complaints and provide treatment AND/OR create an appointment with a specialty clinic. EX. SM was referred to mental health for anxiety, SM was referred to an allergy clinic for possible rhinitis, and SM was prescribed an antimigraine drug. The SM then needs to collect these records and receive treatment for the diagnosed ailments. This step is crucial to the Disability process because if the VA cannot find a record of a diagnosis and treatment of the ailment, the SM cannot claim it.  
  3. The SM should request their entire medical record approximately six months before transition. The SM will then sit with a Veteran Services Officer representative and review their complaints, called claims. Ex. Scarring to the chest due to acne, tinnitus, sleep apnea, etc. The SM should claim EVERYTHING they experienced during their military career. The SM should request a mental health appointment as well as a medical appointment. When the SM attends the VA appointment, it should claim anything the VA doctor finds that they did not initially claim AND attain a record of the appointment e.g. Low motility in the right ankle, scarring, rhinitis. If they do not take a record of what was found during this exam, it will be almost impossible to acquire this record. 
  4. After the SM transitions, the VA should complete the case in 6 to 9 months, and the SM will receive a disability rating along with back pay from the transition date. Anything the SM claimed that was not diagnosed by the VA doctor or present and recorded in the SM medical record will NOT be rated. The SM would then need to file a new claim to show additional proof that their conditions are service-connected and, if denied, an appeal. If the SM cannot complete this task independently, many companies can assist at little to no cost. If the SM’s claim and appeal are rejected, the SM may have to attain counsel to further their case. 

G.I. Benefits

Most SMs receive full G.I. Bill benefits after completing eight years of service. Most SMs are briefed on the G.I. Bill at their services transition workshops, such as the Army’s Soldier for Life program; however, there is limited information on what benefits accompany the G.I. Bill. These benefits include BAH, the Yellow Ribbon program, and other education opportunities.

BAH: When SMs use their G.I. Bill, they receive BAH at the address of their university. This can be the difference of thousands of dollars. If an SM with dependents from New York attends a school in Rochester, NY, he would receive $1,608 per month, while an SM going to school in Long Island, NY, would receive $4,140 per month. This is a difference of $2,532! Even though they are 5 hours and 371 miles apart, this is critical information for a transitioning SM to use in their decision-making process. 

Yellow Ribbon Program: Some universities participate in this program which can provide anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 depending on the school, the program, and the unique relationship the school has with the VA. From personal experience, AFTER considering the cost of an MBA program, the G.I. Bill, and Yellow Ribbon, these were the cost of the three schools I was looking at. Columbia University $189,000, Baruch College $91,000, and Fordham University, $0!   

Educational opportunities: Depending on where the SM is in their educational journey, their needs vary. An NCO SM without a Bachelor’s degree might do well to use their G.I. Bill for trade schools, such as electrical engineering or cyber security, while an Officer with a BA might seek out an MBA. The G.I. Bill supports all of these programs to varying degrees. I recommend using the G.I. Bill to best benefit from the cost, quality of education, and free time. For example, most SMs do not know of Executive MBA programs. These programs are designed for 30-year-old, mid-grade professionals to level up their education while maintaining full-time jobs. ALL mid-grade Officers and NCOs should be considered mid-grade professionals. An example of an EMBA program meets one three-day weekend every month, with four four-day sabbaticals and one two-week international study for two years. These programs are considered full-time because they offer the same degree as the full-time programs, which meet every weekday.  

Transitioning to the Reserves

SMs have many options to continue to serve in a Reserve capacity depending on why a SM is transitioning. SMs leaving after 8 years have accrued a significant financial benefits package that could be completely lost if they do not transition to the reserves. These SMs must be given the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. The option to continue serving in the reserves is multifaceted but, given the right information, is a simple process. SMs must take into account the time they want to dedicate to the reserves, their professional ambitions, and their financial benefits.  

Time: For this example, I will be speaking about the Army. There are three options for joining the reserves. Joining a TPU (Troop Program Unit) is the normal idea of the Reserves. You are assigned to a unit based on your preference, location, and MOS, and attend drill once a month and two weeks a year. SMs of these units may be called upon for activation depending on the needs of the Army, MOS, and more.  If the SM had ten years of service, they only needed to complete 10 “good years” of reserve service to retire. A good year is when an SM accumulates 51 retirement points a year. Any SM completing all assigned TPU duties achieves a good year. Upon achieving 20 total years in service, the SM can retire and receive their pension at 60. Any call to active duty cuts the time down ex. One year on orders, and you receive your pay at 59. Joining a TPU has its benefits and drawbacks. The schedule is usually rigid, the path to promotion is easy, and SMs may want to deploy or not be deployed. Also, you can receive bonuses and join a TPU straight from transition.

IRR: In the IRR (Individual Ready Reserve), you receive no benefits but are not completely released from the Army. Therefore you can rejoin at any time. If you join the IRR, you can join the IMA (Individual Mobilized Augmentee) program. This is mainly for MAJs or E8s and above. Here you choose a unit to be assigned to, such as SOCOM, and then create your schedule based on that unit’s needs. The same 51-day good year applies. You get 15 points for being in the reserves, 1 point for your medical/dental appointment, 12 points for 12 days of Annual training (AT) (during AT you receive TDY if needed), and 24 units/12 days (4-hour blocks, 8 hours equals 1-day) of Individual Training. You can do an additional 24 units/12 days (4-hour blocks, 8 hours equals 1-day without additional paperwork. Ex. You can work the entire month of April (30 days) and do not have to do any other work the entire year. IMAs receive all of the benefits as those assigned to a TPU. You can also join the National Guard, which works basically the same as the TPU. The bottom line is that SMs with ten years in only have 240 days of service remaining to receive their pension! That is less than one year of service, spread out over 10 years. 

Professional Ambitions: Some SMs want to continue to serve in the military. After they choose their unit, they can continue to vie for professional schooling, promotion, command, and deployment. SMs must understand which unit they are joining, which position they are vying for, and how that fits in their professional journey. Some positions, such as Company Command, deployment team lead, or Staff planner, can increase the likelihood of future promotion and tick the boxes for JPME. To get promoted, a SM must be in a slot of a higher rank or be able to move up into a slot in a unit. Once they have the slot, they can request promotion orders and be promoted immediately. SMs in the reserve have the freedom to change their units based on their families’ needs, not the Army’s. Additionally, some SMs may have more opportunities to get promoted than their active-duty peers. Ex. There are two to three Brigadier Generals in CA/PSYOP and over 30 in the Reserves. 

Financial Benefits: There are significant benefits to maintaining a Military ID. It’s not just the 10% discount at Lowes and Home Depot or pre-boarding for Delta Airlines; it’s the access to military-only services. As reservists, SMs can sign up for Tricare Reserves Select and get health insurance for themselves and their families for $230 a month. Dental benefits for an SM and their family are $89. Vision insurance for an SM and their family is $22. SMs also retain their SGLI Life insurance for the same $11 as active duty SMs. These costs and services drastically outperform average services provided to non-SMs. 

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