Salute to Spouses Blog

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Space between military and civilian work can help recharge military families

“Terminal leave” is the time that a service member is allowed to take off duty at the end of his or her career. It’s typically a combination of regular accrued leave and permissive TDY.

The military grants that time so that retiring personnel can search for jobs or move to a new home. But instead of using terminal leave to settle into a way of life, some couples and families turn it into the adventure of a lifetime.

Space-a fights, cruises, a cross-country RV trip, that honeymoon you never got to have – or just a nice long visit with friends and family – terminal leave is an opportunity to do whatever you want, on whatever budget you have.

During a recent Facebook discussion with a number of recently and soon-to-be retired spouses, Rhonda Best said she and her husband plan to treat themselves to a trip to Las Vegas, then visit family. They’re also considering traveling space-a or taking a cruise.

“Who knows when you’ll get a chance to have these vacations when your soldier starts their new job,” Best said.

Terminal leave begins when you sign out of your last unit. At that point, though still active duty, the servicemember is basically done with the military, but continues to receive all pay and allowances until his or her retirement date. Nothing changes in terms of pay or benefits during terminal leave – you will even receive Basic Allowance for Housing, even if you don’t “live” anywhere.

My own husband had 112 days of terminal leave when he retired last year. We used it to jump-start our yearlong RV tour of the United States, with our two teenage kids.

Carol Baxter and her husband spent three months traveling Space A to eight foreign countries while on terminal leave, and another four months traveling the U.S. As for her husband, she said: “He is refreshed – recharged – and back to himself after a grueling 30-year career.”

Others said their retiring servicemember took a more practical route and started a new job while on terminal leave. That’s not a bad deal, either, when you consider you could potentially draw two paychecks at a time for a couple of months.

So how does terminal leave work? The terminal leave form is submitted with the original retirement paperwork. Typically, that is a year or so in advance of the actual retirement date. The individual unit will help figure out how much leave will be available. It’s a complicated calculation that takes into account many factors, including leave accrued while on terminal leave.

It also includes permissive TDY. Typically a servicemember retiring from a location within the United States is eligible for 10 days permissive TDY. Those retiring from overseas locations are eligible for up to 30 days. However, permissive TDY is at the discretion of the unit and will have to be approved.

Remember that 112 days of terminal leave I mentioned my husband having? That was 82 days of accrued leave, plus 30 days of permissive TDY.

Some people also opt to sell back their leave. However, doing that has tax implications (and you lose the BAH). Check carefully with your local finance office to see if selling back leave makes sense for your situation.

The website and blog “Poppin’ Smoke” are a great resource for Space A travel. Stephanie Montague created the blog after her husband retired from the Army in 2015 and they spent a year traveling the world Space A. (Note for those not familiar: Space A flights are military “space available.” They are free with the exception of occasional minimal fees or taxes, and can literally take you anywhere in the world).

Retirees can travel Space A, but there is a big advantage to doing so while on terminal leave and still on active duty. Active duty personnel and their families get higher priority for seats, meaning it’s much more likely you’ll get on a flight.

I personally know several families who have taken Space-A flights while on terminal leave, as their last “hurrah” before retirement. Once you familiarize yourself with the system – and remain flexible – it can be a great way to travel.

Remember that you can also stay in military lodging while traveling, to include hotels, TLA facilities, cabins and campgrounds. That can be a great way to travel on a budget, especially in the U.S.

“Being able to travel during terminal leave requires a little bit of advance planning,” Montague said. “But it's well worth it!”

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