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General Military Questions

Military Medical Separation & Retirement

If you are considering joining the military or are currently a service member thinking about retirement, you might have some curiosity about military medical retirement’s nuances.

Some service members enter and leave the military after completing 20 or more years and receive their full benefits.

Other service members experience disabilities to a varying degree and these disabilities impact job performance.

In some cases, members are medically retired, while others are medically separated.

The difference between the two has life-long consequences.

1. Difference between Military Medical Separation and Military Medical Retirement

Transition Assistance Programs and Resources can help with a military medical retirement or separation

When a service member retires from the military, they do so after completing at least 20 years in the military.

In the case of retirement, there are some situations where non-disabled retirees can face recall to active duty in the case of the service’s needs.

In some cases, a service member has a medical condition that keeps them from performing their job adequately.

The medical condition does not have to be physical, however; mental health conditions may contribute to being unfit for duty.

The difference between a medical separation and a military medical retirement comes down to the rating percentage.

If a service member is rated less than 30%, they receive involuntary severance pay and face separation from the military.

If the service member receives a rating of more than 30%, they are medically retired, and the member and their family receive all the benefits afforded to a retiree.

The distinction is vital because there is a difference between a military medical retirement pension and the VA’s compensation.

Related ArticleMilitary Medical Waiver Guide

2. Medical Fitness for Duty

Service members are fit for duty by meeting the expectations of the job.

“Unfit for duty,” means a condition stands in the way of completing the duties of your “office, grade, rank, or rating.”

3. Department of Defense General Process to Determine Fitness 

If a doctor decides you have a medical condition that may get in the way of your performance, they refer the case to a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB). 

The board is comprised of physicians who review the file and decide based on the medical standards for the MOS.

Next, the MEB takes its decision and sends it over to a disability evaluation board (PEB). This includes an appellate review, case management, and counseling. 

The PEB board considers if you can perform your job and how stable is your condition.

Also, they determine if the condition existed before your military service and the degree (percentage) of your disability.

You may appeal this decision, and you can have legal representation.

Also, you might consider bringing in a representative from the VA.

4. What Conditions Render a Person Medically Unfit

The conditions that make a person unfit could be physical or mental.

Physical Conditions

The list of medical conditions that may make a service member unfit for duty is rather long.

Some conditions include inflammatory or infectious diseases, abdominal wall defects, renal dysfunction, or even bleeding disorders.

The existence of a medical condition by itself does not make a member unfit.

Instead, it is the degree to which the condition takes away the service member’s ability to perform their job.

Mental Conditions

There are psychiatric conditions that may result in a service member being unfit for duty.

These may include treatment-resistant depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or anxiety.

Other conditions, such as schizophrenia or delusional disorders, may also result in an unfit rating.

Just like medical conditions, the severity and treatment prognosis all play into the rating for these conditions.

For instance, a depressed service member is not automatically unfit for duty. 

Related Article8 Types of Military Discharge 

Benefits for Military Medical Separation & Military Medical Retirement

Different scenarios could play out for service members deemed unfit for duty.

5. Separation Without Benefits

In some cases, service members receive a separation and do not receive benefits.

Usually, this happens when the injury occurs when the service member does not qualify for base pay. Often this occurs if the member is AWOL.

Although, this may also happen if you had a pre-existing condition that worsened over time. This condition began before you entered the service, and the conditions were not a normal progression.

In this case, you will not receive pay.

6. Separation with Severance

In some cases, a service member is unfit but still receives severance pay.

This type of separation usually happens when deemed unfit for service because of service-related reasons, but the rating is below 30%.

By calculating the years of service and the base retirement pay, you find the amount of the severance pay. 

7. Medical Retirement

Medical retirement could be permanent or temporary.

If the disability warrants a temporary medical retirement, there is likely a reevaluation every 18 months. 

Also, if there is a temporary retirement for a specific amount of time and the service member reenters the service, the time spent temporarily retired does not count towards the total amount of years needed for retirement.

Permanent military medical retirement happens if you have less than 20 years in the service.

You will receive VA benefits if you have a medical condition related to your service. This situation may include VA monthly compensation.

Also, if there are more than 20 years of service, a service member could be medically retired regardless of the rating percentage.

In this case, the service member receives full benefits.

Related ArticleEntry Level Separation 

8. VA Benefits After Medical Separation

The VA can help during a military medical retirement

If a service member receives a disability rating, the amount of disability payment depends on the condition.

Other variables impact the amount, such as the number of dependents, type of disability, and if the condition was made worse because of military service.

9. Service Member’s Role in the Medical Separation Process

The entire process of a medical separation is often confusing, and service members may have difficulty understanding the process and advocating for themselves.

However, service members need to remain engaged throughout the entire process.

A soldier should reach out to a VA Military Services Coordinator. The coordinator will help with the process and assist with filing for benefits.

10. Life After Medical Separation

Those who face a medical separation from the military must understand that separation is not a failure.

However, it is crucial to get plans in order.

For instance, there is a Military Spouse Transition Program for spouses.

Also, the Transition Assistance Program is available for those to help work through available benefits.

11. Transitional Medical Care

If a service member receives a temporary or permanent disability rating and is retired rather than separated, it is essential to look into TRICARE benefits.

If the service disability rating is less than 30 percent, the separation means you do not have TRICARE.

However, there is a transitional assistance management program that includes a temporary transitional healthcare plan.

Also, service members should schedule their final medical and dental exams.

Related Article15 Best States for Military Retirees and Veterans


There is a significant difference between a medical separation and medical retirement.

If a member is unfit for duty but has a disability rating of less than 30 percent, and there are less than 20 years in the service, the result is a medical separation with severance pay.

If the member is unfit because of personal negligence and was not due to military service, there is separation without benefits.

Although if the member has at least eight years of service, there may be some severance pay.

However, if the service member has a rating of more than 30% or at least 20 years of service, they will either have permanent or temporary disability retirement and receive benefits.

Many conditions could result in a medical separation or retirement, but the existence of a condition does not automatically mean a severance.

The condition must stand in the way of job performance.

In the event of a military medical retirement or separation, it is vital to reach out to the VA to understand the process.

There are resources available to help with the transition.


Rob V.
Military Medical Retirement

Military Medical Retirement

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Learn more about the differences between military medical separation and retirement, including differences in benefits, pay, medical care, and more.
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