Though there are several options for retirement, generally speaking a soldier, sailor Marine or airman can retire after 20 years with half of his or her final “high three” pay as a pension, which means an 18-year-old who enlists right out of high school will be 38 and if he or she makes sergeant first class (E-7) he or she will be collecting $2338 a month or more for a rest of his or her life adjusted for cost of living,
Many Americans would be astonished at the pensions that general officers and admirals receive, particularly since 80% of them also land in “retirement” generously remunerated positions with defense contractors either in active positions soliciting new contracts from their former peers or sitting on boards. General David Petraeus, whom The Nation describes as the “general who lost two wars,” pulls in a pension of $220,000 even though he was forced to resign as CIA Director due to passing classified information to his mistress. He is also chairman of a New York City based company KKR Global, which is part of a private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts. He reportedly is paid in six figures plus bonuses for “oversee[ing] the institute’s thought leadership platform focused on geopolitical and macro-economic trends, as well as environmental, social, and governance issues.”
It apparently is difficult to take money away from general and flag officers. An Air Force four-star general named Arthur Lichte was reduced in rank to a two-star in 2017 after he was found guilty of having raped a lower ranking woman officer. His pension went down from $216,000 to $156,000 due to the reduction. Normally, however, America’s 1,000 general and flag officers can look forward to comfortable retirements.
But on top of that rather generous bit of cash there are the considerable other benefits, as the old recruiting sergeants would put it, the “bennies.” Military retirees can receive full tuition and expenses at a college or technical school if they choose to go back to school. This is why one sees so many ads for online universities on television – they are trolling for soldier dollars knowing that it’s free money. The retiree will also have access to heavily subsidized medical care for him or herself plus family. The medical care is a significant bonus under the Tricare system, which describes itself on its website as “the gold standard for medical coverage, [that] is government managed health insurance.” A friend who is retired recently had a hip replacement operation that would have cost $39,000 for only a few hundred dollars through Tricare.
What is significant is that even enlisted military personnel can start a second career on top of their pension, given that many of them are still in their thirties. Some that have security clearances can jump into highly paid jobs with defense contractors immediately while others also find places in the bureaucracy with the Department of Homeland Security. Working for the government twice is called “double dipping.”