Military Retirement Journal – Pre-Separation Counseling Checklist

This article was written by Forrest Baumhover.

This is the second in my series of retirement journal blog posts.  Although this post isn’t an update on my personal situation, I wanted to cover something that I have been thinking about since I wrote my last post–what TAP looks like now–or at least the pre-separation counseling portion.

If you know people who went through TAP ‘a few years ago,’ you should understand that TAP has completely changed.  According to the DoD TAP website, in 2013, DoD redesigned TAP into “a cohesive, modular, outcome-based program that bolsters and standardizes the opportunities, services, and training that Service members receive to better prepare them to pursue their post-military career goals.”

There are three TAP components that each service member is supposed to attend:  pre-separation counseling, the 5-day workshop, and the capstone course.  Since I’ve only attended pre-separation counseling (referred to as PreSep), I’ll give you an overview.  I do have some of the other courses scheduled for later in the year, so I will write separately about them.  Since I’m transitioning from MacDill Air Force Base, I will reference their transition assistance website quite frequently…however, since schedules & optional program offerings may differ by location, you should refer to your local transition office’s website.

I attended in October 2015, which is almost two years from my planned September 2017 retirement date, for several reasons.  First and foremost, attending as early as possible maximizes your schedule flexibility.  Waiting until six months out means that you have a more compressed timeframe to get a bunch of things done, which means you probably will rush through events that require more attention to do properly.

I do not want to risk losing benefits or creating a bunch of extra work for myself, so I took the time to go to PreSep earlier.  Second, I personally felt like attending PreSep was the first opportunity for me to think about retirement planning in military terms.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what life will look like after the military, but taking an afternoon to attend PreSep helped me mentally review the checklist of all the military-specific items that I need to go through.

Finally, it will help me formulate what 2016 should look like.  My goal is to accomplish most of my required transition activities (appointments, classes, etc) by the end of 2016, so that I can hit my terminal leave period (hopefully May 1, 2017) with a full focus on my financial planning business. Getting PreSep out of the way helped me identify the other TAP-related events that I should plan for—not just the mandatory course, but the optional programs that are available, such as the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business class.

What is the purpose of PreSep?

Officially, the real purpose for PreSep is two-fold:

  1. Generate your DD 2648 (Pre-separation checklist)
  2. Develop your Individual Transition Plan (ITP)

According to Title 10, US Code Section 1142, PreSep is required for all regular service members with at least 180 days of continuous days of active duty, and all eligible deactivating members of the Guard and Reserve, to include Individual Ready Reserve and individual mobilizing augmentees, with 180 cumulative days of service (other than training).  MacDill’s AFRC suggests attending PreSep as soon as possible.  People who are separating are allowed to attend up to 1 year prior to separation, while retirees can attend up to 2 years in advance.

PreSep Registration

According to the MacDill AFRC,  you should do a couple of things prior to PreSep:

  1. Schedule an appointment.  You can do this by calling 828-0145/2721.
  2. Register with eBenefits.  ( Use a CAC enabled computer to register.  Ensure you bring proof of your registration with you.  (Print the page that has you logged in)
  3. Download the Individual Transition Plan (ITP):  Complete the information on page 1; Review the Overview information (pg 1) and the Career Readiness Standards (pg 2).  Print the completed first two pages and bring to PreSep.
  4. Bring a laptop.  Instead of printing your ITP, you can store the ITP on your laptop.

When I tried to follow this, I couldn’t find an ITP in my profile.  I’m pretty sure that I have a blank version in the DVD that I received in PreSep, but I have not taken the time to go through it yet and figure it out.  I’ll make a note to take some time, go through an ITP, and write an additional post on it later on.

You may want to check with your local office to determine scheduling availability.  For example, MacDill only schedules retirement PreSep on Mondays, and separation PreSep on Wednesdays.

What is the Pre-Separation Counseling Checklist?

The Preseparation Counseling Checklist, or DD-2648, is a comprehensive checklist of ‘resources’ that you can look into regarding employment assistance, relocation, housing, education, mental & physical health, health & life insurance, finances, reserve affiliation, veterans benefits, and legal assistance.  You fill out yes or no (as in yes, I would like more information, or no I don’t) for each item in a 5 page checklist.  However, I would give you several caveats:

I asked two different counselors the same question and got two different answers.  When you ask for assistance on a program with which you’re not familiar, you should probably ask the person what their background is.  Ask for a second opinion if the answer sounds weird, and ask for a resource that you can look into if needed.  If it’s a program with an instruction (like the Survivor’s Benefit Plan) ask for a reference to the instruction.

Be prepared to do a lot of research yourself.  While the transition counselors may want to help you, their primary focus is to get you to the resources.  You still need to take the time to do the research & understand these programs yourself.  No one will spoon-feed this to you.

Budget your time for all the stuff you want to tackle.  This can be an overwhelming list.  If you start early enough, you can schedule enough time to go through everything you want without having to cut anything out.  People who start late end up having to rush through things & may inadvertently short-change themselves.

Separate things into categories—medical, job hunting, education, etc., based upon your priorities.  Then, separate the mandatory stuff from the ‘nice to have.’  For example, MacDill has a LinkedIn workshop.  This might be great, even practical for the career field you want to go into, but TAP is mandatory.  Taking the time to prioritize each of these items will help you in terms of scheduling, and will allow you to develop your own plan of action to address everything you need to address.

One thing that I learned during PreSep is that there are more offerings through your local office than what is included in Transition GPS.  For example, MacDill AFB offers the previously mentioned LinkedIn workshop, which is a two-day course.  The takeaways from this course will help military personnel navigate the ins and outs of LinkedIn, and is probably as important as a powerful resume.  Take the time to learn a little more about what is available locally.

The next entry in my retirement journal will go into more depth about the ITP—what I saw, and what you may or may not want to pay attention to.

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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