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Your Guide To Voluntary Military Separation

Are you preparing to part ways with your life in the military? Feeling overwhelmed? 

You’re not alone. And you don’t have to handle the transition on your own.

There are many reasons why service members voluntarily separate from the military. 

This voluntary separation guide is for you. We’ll discuss:

  • The reasons why military members may choose to seperate
  • How you can best plan for your separation 
  • How you can prepare for life as a civilian

Table of Contents

Military Separation Overview

You’re leaving the military either by your choice or the military’s choice. 

And if you’re separating before your obligated years of service are up, keep in mind that you may be asked to complete that service. Separating doesn’t necessarily mean you’re leaving the military — but leaving active duty status. 

When you raised your hand, swore the oath, and then signed on the line, you agreed to a minimum period of service time. 

For the majority of those separating, it’s honorable and done so at the end of their service time. 

For others, the time is cut short for a number of reasons — some honorable and some not (such as for disciplinary reasons). 

Depending on your branch of the military — such as Navy, Army, Airforce, Coast Guard, Marines — the process may look different.

What Is The Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Separation?

Your separation from the military can be voluntary or involuntary. 

For example:

Keith has been in the Army for just over 19 years, and he’s dreaming of retirement in just a few short months. Since he enlisted, he’s …

  • Gotten married
  • Traveled the world
  • Had three children

… and now the time has come to retire. 

He’s ready to part ways with military life, and he will be doing so voluntarily. His commitment was fulfilled, he served his country, and he’ll give it a full 20 years and end with great benefits. 

Retirement is just one reason for voluntary separation. We’ll discuss more reasons shortly. 

On the flip side:

Sharon is an E5 in the Army, coming up on her 14th year of active duty service. 

She’s single. She loves her military life. She loves her job. 

Unfortunately, it has become clear that she will not be eligible for promotion and therefore is being forced to separate from the military because she’s reaching RCP.

As in Sharon’s case, being forced to separate doesn’t always mean that disciplinary actions have been taken.

Voluntary Separation Meaning

Voluntary separation from the military is just as it sounds. You’re leaving the military by your own decision. 

We’ll discuss a few reasons in more depth further on, but common reasons for voluntary separation include:

  • Expiration of enlistment contract
  • Retirement
  • Volunteer to leave when skills are in low demand
    • With a military voluntary separation incentive

Voluntary separation normally results in:

  •  An honorable discharge
  • Veteran benefits made available

Involuntary Separation Meaning

Involuntary separation from the military involves the service member separating from active duty status outside of their own will or desire. 

It can be a heartbreaking experience. Most times, the service member has invested a number of years in his or her training and has made many sacrifices to serve their country. 

Involuntary separation can happen for a number of reasons. 

Common reasons include:

The reason may be completely out of your control — leaving you unprepared.

Involuntary separation may result in the loss of several or all veteran benefits.

This is one of the reasons why American Dream U is so passionate about assisting veterans and their families. 

You’ve served us. Now let us serve you.

3 Reasons Military Members Voluntarily Separate

In addition to the few reasons we’ve already discussed such as retirement and family issues, we’re going to take a closer look at three common voluntary separation reasons that affect many active duty service members.

Reason #1: Early Separation To Further Education

Department of Defense Directives allow a military member to be discharged early to pursue their education if they are within 90 days of their normal separation date.

Sometimes a service will approve an educational discharge request of more than 90 days.

Reason #2: Pregnancy or Parenthood

In the past, female service members who became pregnant could request a discharge and get it automatically. 

But with more than 200,000 women on active duty, the rules have had to change with the times. 

Pregnancy no longer qualifies women to be automatically discharged. 

Different branches have different rules and regulations regarding pregnancy and separation. 

And the type of separation often reflects the specific situation. 

For the most accurate information on separation for pregnancy or maternity/paternity leave, it’s best to consult with the current policies for your military branch.

Reason #3: Retirement

One of the most common reasons for voluntary separation is military retirement. 

It’s a day that many service members celebrate. They’ve worked hard for this achievement, and with it will come many great benefits. 

The type of benefits and pay depend on a number of factors such as:

  • Years of service
  • Rank at time of retirement
  • Year of enlistment

How To Prepare For Your Voluntary Separation

Preparing for your military separation is the key to success.

While you’re still active duty, it’s good practice to begin building a nest egg for retirement. 

Begin contributing to your Thrift Savings Plan as well as putting away some for emergencies. 

That emergency could even be an involuntary separation.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s also wise to invest in the educational benefits offered to you. Doing so could set you up for success and an easier transition into the civilian workforce.

Arrange Your Military Separation Checklist

You’ve almost made it. And you want to be as prepared as possible. 

Well before your separation date arrives, there are a few things you want to begin working on. 

Before you begin, make sure to download our transition guide here. The guide includes information on many FREE courses to help you crush your transition. 

In addition, we’ve created the ultimate separation checklist

There are specific things you’ll want to begin preparing along the way beginning as early as 18 months prior to your retirement date.

Start Your Civilian Job Search

You have job security and reliability in the military. 

Leaving the military can come with uncertainty. 

But with the separation comes new and exciting opportunities. 

You get to decide. You’re in control of where you’ll go and what you’ll do. 

With so many choices in careers, it can be easy to get overwhelmed.

How ADU Can Help With Voluntary Separation From the Military

Here at American Dream U, we offer free resources for veterans and their families.

We can help you as you transition. We can help you land your dream job, or help you as you become your own boss in your new civilian life.

Begin preparing for your separation today. Click below to get free access to our online course.


Fill in the form below and download. It’s that easy!

Transition Guide

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