For many, the idea of military medical retirement seems simple. If a military member is no longer able to perform their duties based on a medical condition. They may be retired from service. While that’s a basic overview, it doesn’t nearly cover what the process actually involves. If you are wondering if military medical retirement is complex. Here’s what you need to know.

Determining Fitness for Duty

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that Title 10, U.S.C., Chapter 61 ensures that military members can be forcibly separated or medically retired if the Secretaries of the Military Departments determine that they are unfit for duty based on physical disability. Additionally, a military member can be involuntarily separated or retired for certain mental health-related diagnoses. As well, if they prevent them from being able to perform their duties.

The process for deciding whether a military member is no longer fit for duty based on a medical condition can be lengthy. Two separate boards are involved, the Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) and the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB).

In most cases, the military member themselves incidentally initiate the process. Typically, this occurs when they seek medical care, and the discovered condition alters their ability to work, causing the medical treatment facility to call for the evaluation.

The MED then reviews the information and makes a determination. If they believe a separation or retirement may be necessary, the case is referred to the PEB for a formal assessment.

PEB Evaluation Recommendations

Once the PEB reviews the case, they recommend specific actions. Usually, this includes:

  • Allowing the military member to return to full duty
  • Putting the military member on the temporary disabled / retired list, also known as TDRL
  • Separating the military member from active duty service
  • Medically retiring the military member

Often, the primary difference between a separation determination and a medical retirement is whether the condition that makes the person unfit for duty originated due to their military service. For example, if a pre-existing condition is responsible. A person may not qualify. However, that isn’t always the case.  Particularly if the military member has at least eight years of service. This is often why military medical retirement is complex.

Requirements for Medical Retirement

In most cases, when people think of medical retirement. What they are actually envisioning is permanent disability retirement. Generally, those who qualify have a permanent disability that is stable and comes with a rating of a minimum of 30 percent. Additionally, that condition must make the person unfit for duty.

However, individuals who are temporarily unfit and are placed on TDRL end up on temporary disability retirement. Usually, the conditions are considered not stable enough for rating purposes. Indicating the condition may change during the course of the next five years.

Unlike Veterans Affairs (VA) disability ratings, the military disability rating is permanent upon final disposition. As a result, an accurate disability rating can’t be assigned due to the fluid nature of the situation. Placing a person on TDRL gives the necessary time to see if how things may change. Increasing the odds that an accurate rating is ultimately assigned.

Medical Retirement Compensation

In either of the two forms of medical retirement, there are formulas to determine the benefits. Usually, disability rating x retired pay base or 2.5 x retired pay base x years of service is used. The retired pay base amount varies depending on when the military member joined.

For the vast majority of active duty service members, it’s based on the average of their high 36 months of basic pay. However, anyone who joined before September 8, 1980, it’s simply calculated based on their military basic pay.

It’s important to note that anyone on TDLR can’t receive less than 50 percent of their retired pay base, regardless of what the calculation actually yields. However, they can be eligible for more than that if that outcome of the calculation leads to a higher number.

Compensation For Losing Their Medical Career

This compensation is meant to address the fact that the service member is losing their medical career. It isn’t the same as VA compensation. Which is designed to compensate for the loss of employment opportunities in the civilian world due to a medical condition that resulted from military service.

In some, but not all, cases, a person will be eligible for both military medical retirement and VA benefits. However, a minimum of 20 years of service is necessary. And other requirements also have to be met.


Did you know that military medical retirement is complex? Did you take a medical retirement and only later discovered its challenges? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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