Getting civilian retirement credit for military service


Not a day passes that I don’t get at least one reader asking if active-duty military service is creditable for civilian retirement purposes and what you have to do to get that credit. These folks have come to a sympathetic audience, since I served on active duty and, after being hired by the federal government, put in a good many years in the reserves.

For active-duty service to be creditable for civilian retirement purposes, you have to have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. You’ll also get credit if you served as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy or as a cadet in the U.S. Military Academy or the Air Force or Coast Guard academies. And you’ll get credit for any service when you were called to active duty or training duty while in the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps or the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Members of a reserve component of the armed forces or the National Guard can get credit only for the time they are on active duty. Members of the Merchant Marine are never eligible for military service credit.

Members of the armed forces were first covered by Social Security on Jan. 1, 1957. In 1982, Congress passed a law designed to avoid giving credit twice for the same period of service, once under the civilian retirement system and again under Social Security. It devised one set of rules for those first hired as feds before Oct. 1, 1982, and another for those hired on or after that date:

• If you were first hired before Oct. 1, 1982, you’ll get credit for active-duty service in determining your eligibility to retire.

In addition, you’ll have the option of making a deposit to the civilian retirement system to get credit for your post-1956 active-duty service in your annuity calculation. The deposit equals a percentage of your active-duty basic pay plus interest, where applicable. No deposit is required for military service that occurred before Jan. 1, 1957.

If you do not make a deposit to the civilian retirement system for post-1956 military service, your years of military service will be deducted from your combined total of military and civilian service and your annuity will be reduced accordingly. This occurs at age 62 if you are already retired or at your older age if you retire after 62.

If you won’t be eligible for a Social Security benefit at either of those two points in time and haven’t made a deposit, your annuity won’t be reduced.

• If you were hired on or after Oct. 1, 1982, you’ll get credit for your active-duty service in your civilian annuity only if you make a deposit for that time. If you don’t make a deposit, that service won’t be used either to determine your eligibility to retire or in your annuity computation.

Other rules
If you are receiving retired pay for your active-duty service and want to get credit for that service in your civilian annuity, with one exception you’ll have to make a deposit to the retirement system and, at retirement, waive your military retired pay.

Here’s the exception. You may make a deposit for that time and keep your military retired pay if you were awarded it because of a service-connected disability either incurred in combat or caused by an instrumentality of war and incurred in the line of duty during a period of war.

Unlike military retirees who are receiving retired pay, if you are — or will be — receiving reserve retired pay; you won’t have to waive that pay to get credit for that service in your civilian annuity.

The rules for getting credit for any period of active-duty reserve service are the same as the rules for getting credit for active-duty military service.

Most federal employees don’t get any credit for periods of leave without pay beyond six months. However, if you are called to active duty, you’ll get credit for that time even if it goes beyond six months. You will have to make a deposit to the retirement fund for that period to get credit for that time.


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Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to

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