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Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

Know your benefits

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For the past 10 years or so, when Soldiers talk with career counselors about re-enlisting, the focus (primarily) has been on bonuses. With the continuous reshaping of the force and budget reduction talks, most likely bonuses will not be as plentiful or readily available. With that being said, Soldiers should concentrate on what BENEFITS they are entitled to.

Soldiers know (and usually use) the more visible benefits, i.e., generous leave policy, tuition assistance, transferring the 9/11 GI Bill, Smith gym, Post Exchange, and commissary. What I’m going to focus on at this point in time are the benefits you normally don’t use or even think about that would come into play if you decide to leave the Army.

I want to talk about a benefit that is usually taken for granted — medical and dental coverage. Soldiers get sick, get hurt, need teeth cleaned or a cavity filled, and have children. The costs associated with medical coverage in the civilian sector add up.

According to a 2009 report, the average annual premium was $2,985 for a single person and $6,328 for a family. That doesn’t include the co-pay that may be involved with getting treatment. Most employers will provide medical insurance — but it comes at a cost. They may only pay half of the premium or you may see your salary lower than what they could be.

Family members, as well as Soldiers, have been under an increased amount of stress during the last 10 years. The Army has been very proactive to ensure the support that you and your Family members need is in place for your use. There are numerous avenues one can use for assistance for a variety of problems and issues. They range from the unit chaplain to lawyers at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate to www.militaryonesource.com.

Did you know that you can get counseling outside of “military channels” at no cost? For a Soldier or Family member, those sessions can turn around a marriage or a very serious personal problem. How much is that worth?

The “green sheet” provided to Soldiers by Office of the Staff Judge Advocate — that’s worth about $200 to $500 a year in ad valorem tax savings.

The last item I want to discuss is retirement. There have been suggestions of revamping the current retirement model as of late. But let’s assume for a second it will not be changing. What other profession in the world will allow you to work for 20 years and then draw 50 percent of your base pay (immediately after retiring) for the rest of your life? How much money would you save with Tricare if you were on cholesterol or high blood pressure medicine for the rest of your life? Are the previous examples something you’ve considered or have you taken them for granted?

Finally, for those who are making the decision to leave the Army, I thank you for your service. Your commander, first sergeant, squad leader and career counselor hope that your endeavors outside the Army are successful. Just ensure you evaluate your plan fully. Don’t just consider the everyday benefits that you may use. Look long and hard at all the benefits that you have at your fingertips, especially the ones you may not use routinely. It could mean the difference between success and failure. And please, talk to your career counselor for any questions that you may have.

The Installation Retention Office will conduct an outreach today at the Post Exchange from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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