ETS/Retirement: Do We Set Our Troops Up For Failure?
Today I read an article that stated that Congress had approved a new retirement system for veterans, replacing the lump-sun payout system currently in place. For some reason this got me thinking about something I was told over and over again by many a 1SG while ETSing- “there’s nothing out in the civilian world for you, the military is the best thing going so far as work.”
Is there any truth to that claim? Well, if you enjoy the job you’re doing, yes; the benefits definitely don’t hurt either, especially for families.
Let’s be realistic here though, whether you do 4 years or 24, one day you’re going to integrate back into the civilian world. This means different things for different people, but for most veterans I know, there is one harsh reality they face- they are not financially able to support themselves long-term after getting out.
By that I don’t mean that a soldier should be able to get out and never have to work again, however if we look at the trend, the current military culture, especially in the lower ranks promotes spending paychecks all the way to oblivion and then relying on benefits (the DFAC, barracks housing, (our archaic) healthcare system) to hold soldiers over.
Behavior such as this doesn’t exactly work in the civilian world, unless of course we’re promoting a welfare state. Here’s the problem- we take these kids in as young as 17 and give them a massive amount of responsibility, but we still treat privates like children. A vast majority of leaders don’t ever put thought into things such as the financial literacy of their privates.
Sure, we all sit through some incredibly boring annual PowerPoint about retirement benefits and the like, but that’s it. Even some more senior members who have gotten out that I know have saving accounts that don’t even hold enough for a rainy day (and they’ve families to think about).
So no, the military doesn’t intentionally or directly doom those getting out, but they aren’t exactly helping. Instead of mandating that soldiers complete useless online modules such as SSD (sorry, but you don’t get a fucking thing out of virtual detainee operations) we could replace them with classes that teach skills soldiers can use for the rest of their lives: how to balance a checkbook, basic financial literacy, what to look for in healthcare plans, how to buy a house, how to interview for a job. Basic, adult things.
Fear-mongering and trying to coerce people to stay in under the guise of “the outside world has nothing for you” isn’t doing anyone any favors. Stay in the military because you love what you do, not because you’re chained to the benefits it offers.