The Army announced a one-year pilot program on Monday that would allow regular Army soldiers to submit their retirement packets up to two years in advance of their planned retirement date.
The Army's plan, which will begin on Jan. 1, 2023, will allow active-duty soldiers to submit retirement packets at least 12 months in advance of their requested retirement date, but no more than two years away from it, aiming to ease the end-of-service crunch that many service members experience on their way out of the military.
The announcement comes a week after the Government Accountability Office -- Congress's watchdog service -- found systematic issues in the military's Transition Assistance Program, namely that service members were starting their transition classes too late, leading to a hectic separation.
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"We're looking at ways to help provide stability and predictability for soldiers ready to retire after a long, successful career," Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said on Twitter of the Army's new pilot program.
Retirement generally applies to service members who have accumulated 20-plus years of active-duty service, though it can apply to troops who are receiving a medical retirement. The pilot program does not address soldiers who do not meet those retirement thresholds.
Currently, the Army recommends that soon-to-be retirees start their transition assistance classes up to two years out and apply for retirement 6-12 months in advance of their separation date, according to the Army's Soldier for Life program.
The GAO found that most service members weren't able to begin the transition process as early as the Army recommends, leading to a crunch in time to get their separation together for a successful transition to civilian life.
"Our data analysis shows that from April 2021 through March 2022, 25 percent of active-duty DOD servicemembers started TAP on time while 70 percent started TAP less than 1 year before their anticipated separation or retirement date," the report said, "Servicemembers who start TAP less than 1 year before separating may face challenges" in their separation, citing TAP officials.
Through the new program, the Army is asking potential retirees to drop their retirement packets at around the same time they start the TAP, and well in advance of their separation date.
"Most people feel like they need a lot more time," one soldier in the report told GAO researchers.
"Preparing to transition is like being on a train going 120 miles an hour," they said. "The whole process has been totally overwhelming."
It is unclear whether the announcement is a direct result of the GAO report, but the Army's program appears to grapple directly with its feedback.
"The vast majority of soldiers say that they did not start soon enough and then rushed to complete their retirement preparation," the retirement planning section of the Army's Soldier for Life website says, emphasizing that the December version of the retirement planning seminar linked on its website is separate from the overall TAP classes.
Over 46,000 soldiers transitioned out of the military between April and March last year, according to the GAO report. The Army recommends that potential retirees should start planning their transition three years away from their prospective separation date by gathering information on post-Army careers or schools and starting a transitions savings fund.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
Related: Military's Transition Program Riddled with Issues, Report and Veterans Say