My Soldier is Being Separated

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For my entire 10 years as an Army Spouse, I have always thought that the only people that get kicked out of the military are the losers. The drug users. The thieves. The slackers.

And then it happened to us.

One blip on my husband’s otherwise stellar record of service. Years of documented high performance.  Awards. And then one mediocre Officer Evaluation three years ago  — that has since been successfully appealed — ended it all.

If you are in the military community and haven’t been living under a rock, then you know that the Army is downsizing. The officer ranks are being cut through Officer Separation Boards (OSBs), Early Retirement Separation Boards (ERSBs), and slashed promotion rates.

Army regulations call for officers who are passed over for promotion twice to be automatically separated from service.

So on a Wednesday morning in late March, my husband was called into his commander’s office and informed that he was not selected for promotion for the second time, and that we had seven months and one day left in the Army.

When you spend your entire adult life in the military and then find out it’s over, the feelings of uncertainty are overwhelming. Where will we live? Will my husband be able to find a job? What about all our benefits?

On top of that, there is the stigma. As the military downsizes, people are becoming more open minded to the fact that not everyone that gets separated deserves it. But the feeling of failure still lingers.

And when most of your friends are military families, it stings to watch them progress and get promoted, while you dealing with your journey coming to an end.

But three months later there is light on the other side. My husband accepted a great job offer last week. As I type, the packers are packing our stuff for our final move. We are headed home to the East Coast. My husband will be able to continue to serve in the National Guard. We are so grateful to be landing in a good place.

Our story has a seemingly happy ending, but it hasn’t been without bumps. The stress of the uncertainty has tested us. Navigating the clearing process has been full of challenges.

While these kinds of separations are going to become more prevalent, we seem to be among the first. My husband falls into a middle ground. He’s not volunteering to leave but he is being discharged under honorable circumstances. The regulations around these kinds of separations are often ambiguous and even the professionals trained to help us with our paperwork aren’t really sure of the rules.

And the emotional transition is hard. For the last 10 years I have identified deeply as a military spouse. Now I must struggle to redefine that identity. Yesterday, we had to surrender our military IDs. This morning, in order to take my kids to daycare, I had to enter post via the visitor’s gate. It’s like all of the sudden we are no longer a part of the community we relied on for the last 10 years.

To be honest, it’s really scary.

This week, at least a thousand other families are being notified that their journey is ending. My heart breaks for them because I know first hand how devastating it is. If you are being affected by these cuts, you are probably feeling alone and scared. I am still undergoing this transition but here is my best advice:

Cry. It’s okay to grieve.

Educate yourself on your entitlements. You may be entitled to separation pay, transitional healthcare coverage and other benefits. However, the people working with you may not know what you are entitled to and you may have to advocate for yourself.  So it’s important to know what those entitlements are.

— Start making a plan. It’s hard to envision your next steps, especially initially. Setting goals for where we wanted to do and where we wanted to live helped us to focus and get excited about the transition.

— Remember you are not alone. You might be the only one of your friends to get cut and that can be extremely isolating. But remember there are at least 2,500 families going through the same transition.

 

Are you or your friends being affected by the cuts? What’s your best advice for making the transition?

About the Author

Erin
Erin is an Army wife of seven years and the mother of two little girls. Her Army wife resume includes five deployments, five PCS moves, four duty stations, and a few stints volunteering with the family readiness group. She has been documenting her family's military life experience since 2008 on her blog The Unexpected Army Life.
  • Marie

    I feel your pain and understand your journey. Never give up. Always love your country no matter what a few may do. almost 10 years ago I was honorably discharged from the military in a maze of confusion as to how it could have happened. Please seek counsel. It will be a long process to fully integrate into civilian life after a jolt like that. I have been there and the journey is hard and the feelings are real. These circumstances are one more reason why there is a system that is broke and needs to be fixed. There is no reason that one solder should serve a 4 year term and have the proper discharging period or a lifer have their proper discharging period and those all in between not have the same.

  • TheOtherMel

    Erin, my heart goes out to you. Life is scary but I really love that you are holding your head up high right now. We are heading back to Northern Virginia as well, as our Army journey comes to an end very soon. Erin, not only do I want to call you up and take you out for coffee/lunch/wine/popcorn (hey, everyone loves popcorn, right?), I want to get together and compare notes and maybe even talk photography. Not to sound all stalker-ish, but I love your blog and you just seem like someone awesome to hang out with. Good luck with the move and my hope for you is that this is the last time you’ll ever have to pull those pesky stickers off your furniture. :)

    • Amy_Bushatz

      If you’re a stalker, so am I. I hit up Erin to write for us a few years ago after silently stalking her myself ;-)

    • Erin

      Thanks Mel! I don’t mind stalkers as long as they are the good kind. Not the lifetime movie kind ;)

      • TheOtherMel

        “Lifetime movie kind” … that made me giggle!

  • Ms Lonell Dunhoft

    That is so sad.I want to know What happens when our men and women quit joining. Are they going to bring back the draft. I was in the US NAVY many many years ago. I am So sorry the government has treated you and many more like that. It is broken and needs to be fixed right away. If a war breaks out guess who had to go be called up.

    • retusnnavywife

      It has always been this way in the Navy. Navy LTs who fail to select for LCDR twice are let go from active duty. Years ago the severance was just $30,000. Also, right after Viet Nam, many junior officers were let go from active duty after their first assignment. It is much tougher to stay on active duty as an officer. People I served with who wanted to go LDO were advised not to until they had twelve years. That way they would be up for LCDR about the time they hit the 20 year mark – enough time to retire.

  • guest

    No, it’s not just the bad apples that get let go and people need to understand that. You can’t be too comfortable nowadays.

    You are very fortunate that your husband was able to find a job as quickly as he has. That gives me hope that maybe the employment climate is shifting towards the better. Maybe? =) I can somewhat relate to what you went through. Although my husband wasn’t let go after 10 years, he did go through an MEB in 2012 and that was a very scary time. I was angry as we had just PCS’d to HI and he was set to retire this year. I just wanted to complete our tour there but things weren’t meant to be. He did however already have 20+ years in so we had a good run. It’s just overwhelming and very daunting to learn that your plans aren’t going to work out and now here you are looking into a Plan B that wasn’t supposed to happen for another 2 years. The job search and trying to figure out where you’re going to live is the most stressful and very scary indeed.

    Things turned out great for us though and my husbands transition went smoothly. He landed a great job on the east coast as well (he started before he was even officially retired) and my twins are flourishing in school. I have also returned to school and I’m doing ok. We landed on our feet and I’m grateful for that. My husband has several friends who have since retired who are not doing so great. They have either NOT found employment or have been through a few jobs already that didn’t pan out.

    Take this new challenge and run with it. Change can be really exciting and for the better. It seems that you are already on good footing. =) Best of luck to you and your husband.

  • shezim

    I don’t want to sow false fruit, but it may not be over.

    My husband left the army back in the 90’s after he was passed over. He got a good civilian job and we lived a nice, “normal” life. I learned to love being in one place with a man whose longest stretch away from home was four weeks. We put down roots and grew into our life as a former military family.
    Then many (many) years later the Army recalled him, promoted him, and now we are living part two of his Army career. Some days, I just shake my head from the audacity of it all. If he’s RIF’ed again, I know that we, as a family, will be fine. We’ve done it before. I least this time it will be retirement. ;)

    So you too will be fine. Your husband will find a new identity. You’ll learn to love the man he decides to be. You’ll put down roots and you’ll grow into a new kind of family.

    • Erin

      This is definitely a possibility. My husband will be joining the National Guard and continue to promote. There is always the chance that he could be called back or chose to go back on active duty.

  • AmyB

    Erin this was a great article! I hope more families can see there is another side to this hardship. Once they process this life change they are able to be proactive and make a new plan with the support of services available to them. Transition can be hard; however as a military family most can utilize the tools and skills sets they picked up along the way to make this a successful transition into civilian life. Many blessings to your family and others that are experiences this new chapter.

  • AmyB

    Also Best advice to spouses who are experiencing this is: Utilize the transition services on your installation. Spouses have access to the services like their service member. Educate yourself on what is out there so you as a family can make the best decisions in your transition.

    • Erin

      Yes, and another thing that should be noted for spouses is that when your service member is involuntarily separated under honorable circumstances, YOU are entitled to some benefits. Such as commissary and PX privileges for two years AND one time preferred status when you apply for government/federal positions.

      I would definitely use the transition services on post but also do your own research. There are details we have found out independently that were not communicated to us. Such as, if my husband retires from the National Guard, he will be required to repay the separation pay.

      • guest

        Yep. We’re in the same boat and just found this out too. Plus we were told that the VA gets to dip into his separation pay too, because he has a high disability rating but will still be in the reserves.

        • Erin

          I was just researching this, actually. I am unclear if it’s only when it’s a medical discharge, however, It is possible that we might not see any disability pay until the separation pay is paid back. I cannot get a clear answer as the whether this applies to all involuntary separations or just medical separations. if anyone knows the answer to this I would love to hear!

          • Dave

            separation pay generally has to be paid back if you receive VA disability unless the service-connected disability is combat related and then the rules are different. check the “peb forum” for more details

      • shezim

        Also, if your husband qualifies for VA disability you may have to repay the separation pay. Look into extending Tricare for 6 months if needed. It was an option way back when.

        • Erin

          Thanks! I was just researching this. Also, I do believe you are correct that we qualify for 6 months of tricare.

          • Dave

            yes you will–you may also buy COBRA after, but very expensive and your husband’s new job will probably be a better bet. I recommend he get a separation physical quickly–he can file for VA benefits 180 days from the separation date via ebenefits and the military service coordinators. Also–if he were to receive a 100% rating (not uncommon for someone with a lot of little things wrong after 4 deployments), you’re eligible for on-base privileges with a different ID card

          • Erin

            Thanks for this information. We have a child with special needs as well.

      • Nena

        My Husband is being forced out after 15 almost 16 years and we have a child in EFMP, anybody out there knows anything about where, any website or to whom to turn to get some information on how to get some benefit for our child medical

        • MarinePet

          Call Military OneSouce, any time of day, and ask to be scheduled for a Special Needs Consult. The consultants will be happy to help you. You’re eligible for Military OneSource benefits for 180 days after the official discharge date.

      • jojo613

        If your husband has a service related disability, remember that he may also qualify for vocational rehabilitation. A service related disability is NOT the same as disability in the classic sense of the word. I’m 40% due to chemical exposure and ovarian dysfunction (so put the classic disability definition out of your head for a moment). With 40%, I get 90% of my tuition plus books paid for if and when I elect to return to school (in addition to my disability paycheck). Online schools take VocRehab. You learn about it at TAP. So call DAV representative, and get an appointment to see the VA docs at the base. The exam is free and well worth your time. This is something you are entitled to as a service member. It’s just not well advertised.

  • theresa

    18 years ago my husband was at his 10 year mark and the promotion rate to his next rank was 50% – it was very scary and we got lucky. Not lucky because he doesn’t work hard and do well, but lucky because so did a lot of other guys who weren’t selected and lucky because his MOS was desirable at the time. It was a surprise to us too to be standing on the cutting line – when we came into the Marine Corps it seemed like it was all up to us to stay or go as contracts concluded – then suddenly there was huge downsizing and it became very complicated – like now. We’ve come full circle during his time in – and it never gets easier. I know we could have made it either way, but it was very scary and we were unprepared. Erin’s advise is awesome – don’t fear the emotions, know your service member has awesome, sought after training and leadership experience, KNOW YOUR BENEFITS and use them, plan early using the resources on your base specifically there for assisting with your transition, know that you have served well, that your service made a difference and that you are appreciated. Good luck, Erin!

  • Heather

    The state of Iowa has low unemployment and a great new program for veterans looking to transition. http://www.homebaseiowa.org/

  • Karen

    Great article! You have provided excellent tips, and this response thread has lots of valuable information. My husband voluntarily separated from the Army 14 years ago. He was recalled a year later, spent 11 years as a Reservist, was called back to Active Duty, and now might be on that list for involuntary separation. As we wait for the list to publish, I have many of the same feelings you describe. You will get another ID for National Guard, but it is a different world. Good luck with your transition.

  • Michelle

    Thank you so much for this article. We, like many others, are facing these same circumstances in the coming months. All we can do at this point is plan for the worst and hope for the best until something happens (or doesn’t!). Best of luck during your transition.

    • Erin

      Best of luck to you too!

  • ken

    I can sympathize, I was an Army Officer with 15 years in and was chaptered out for physical reasons. It was scary at first because my wife and I had a linear plan for retirement and post retirement. Take a moment to grieve then keep your chin up, and start planning for the future. Start seeing the silver lining in this situation. No more deployments and you can grow roots. Find a way to win :)

    Make sure your husband signs up for the GI bill and designates the recipients. He can do this at the education center.

  • jojo613

    It is sad that the military is separating people, but the military is not forever, and you need to know what you are entitled to. I know for military members military one source is a good resource to assist you in the job hunt. Also check out your AFRC (I don’t know the Army/Navy equivalent), there are people there that will give your FREE career counseling, personality tests, and help you translate your service into resume fodder (and if you are a spouse, they are also trained in turning your volunteer efforts and time spent not working into resume fodder as well). Fill out a USA resume (for GS positions). If you are a disabled veteran (with a service related disability of 10% or higher, you qualify for an addition 2-3 points on your preference level), military one source and AFRC can help you with those resumes too. Hire a headhunter, headhunters are great at finding jobs. Many cities have military only job fairs. DC actually just had a job fair for military academy graduates in April. There are many, many resources out there, you just have to look. Let it sink, then go start looking. Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned, so you have to find start walking a different path. I wanted to be a career woman, Lt. Col, squadron commander– I lasted 5 years, and now I’m a stay at home mom. My career field in the AF (AFSC 33S) was overmanned 130% when I left. I read the writing on the wall, knew I wasn’t going to get promoted (I was not a bad officer– no awful reports, one minor black mark on my record from a former commander that I could have maybe recovered from, but a hard worker none-the-less), and I separated before they separated me.

  • retusnnavywife

    To the spouses out there whose husbands/wives will soon be separated, I am so sorry. This was your life plan and now it is kicked out from under you.
    Silly as it is, the words you use can affect your outlook. Think laid off, company downsized, not kicked out, certainly not less capable than the people who are still there, just caught in circumstances beyond your control.
    I see the posts from those who by the skin of their teeth are still active. Don’t compare yourselves to them. Keep moving forward.

  • jessica

    We were just notified last week. My husband was a year behind on his timeline, due yo his first wife serving him with divorce papers on a 2 week break from a deployment to Iraq. Where he then had to return destroyed, and broken hearted knowing his 18 month old wouldn’t be in his life everyday. After returning home 6 months later, he had to proceed through a messy divorce. While going that 18 month process),I met him. Then his unit deployed to Afghanistan. He missed an entire pregnancy with me, and our child’s first 3 months of life. We moved across the country for the army… to be told we were no longer continuing our journey. 8 years and 2 deployments for my husband. Me putting my masters degree on hold…. its devastating. Our egos are bruised and we are scared. I’m not sure what our next journey is…. it stinks when you give everything and do things right. Then there’s soldiers with DUI’s swept under the rug. :(

  • retusnnavywife

    Does anyone know what % of officers who fail to select the first time are picked up the second? Also, how much time elapses between the first and second looks? A year? That must be one of the longest years of your life but on the other hand, a whole 12 months plus the seven months after the second to prepare for another life. So prepare for the worst and rejoice if you don’t need to execute Plan B (?).

  • retusnnavywife

    I did some internet checking and found that the selection rate for the second look for officers who failed to select the first time is less than 5%. Why then is it such a surprise? Does senior leadership provide guidance for the affected officers? Do their spouses know the odds? They have an entire year to plan plus the months after the second look. I don’t wish to minimize Erin’s pain; the year between must have been unbearable for her husband on the job. It is not easy but there is valuable time to prepare for another career.

  • James

    What about officers who want out of the military? I am an active duty physician who submitted a REFRAD which was denied because I owe an ADSO until June 2016. I even wrote that I would pay the money back for training.

    I am 110% sure that I will leave the Army and never look back in 2016, but yet I see good soldiers whom want to stay in get shown the door. I know its only because I’m a physician, because every COL, LTC I meet tries to talk me into staying in.

    Why can’t the Army let us out that do not want to be here nor give a crap about an OER? To some officers the Army is the only thing they have.

    Why punish everyone?

  • Hope

    I came across your article as I began researching our situation. Thank you for voicing my feelings that I am keeping inside so that I do not increase my husband’s anxiety.
    I found a very interesting article on this topic and thought I would share with you. It is called “Ending Up or Out”. It is such an odd concept that only the American military does – to spend so much money on training and supporting a family, to then abruptly end their career. http://www.g2mil.com/let.htm

  • Victoria

    UUrrr I am so glad I found this article. I know how you feel as I feel the same way. We just got the news. MY spouse is a fantastic officer with top block reports so we were shocked. I read somewhere that only 36% of all the Majors eligible were picked up this year. The only blight my husband has is that he got out of the army as a captain and took a 2.5 year break. If he hadn’t gotten out for a bit he would have been in a year group that was not affected by all these cuts. He’s dealing with it really well, but I am am mad as heck. It seems so unfair. He has been deployed to Iraq twice (12 months and 15 months) and Afghanistan and Kuwait. Plus 2 tours (4 years total) in Korea and a year in Germany. So he has been away from family a lot. So I feel like he has been ripped off. Especially as we know people a few year groups ahead when they were promoting 90% of people. SO it shits me that I know people who have been fired from their jobs and moved somewhere else (one guy twice) and people with DUI’s or who have not passed a PT test in a very long time. Yet these people were getting promoted. I understand the trimming the fat philosophy but they are dumping good people because they joined the army a year too late. It blows.