Navigating Changes to the 180-Day Rule for Retiring Military

By Stacy Hojnowski

     The 180 day rule restricts the Department of Defense (DoD) from hiring retired military to civilian positions within the first six months of retirement. This longstanding policy has been in place since 1964 but was waived when a state of national emergency was declared in September 2001. In 2014, the United States Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) issued a report indicating the exception made to the waiting period had led to a perception of inappropriate veteran hiring preferences. In response, the Senate Armed Forces Committee recommended reinstating the restriction on the appointment of retired service members to DoD civilian positions within 180 days of retirement. Their recommendation was accepted and included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 which took effect on December 23, 2016.


     For career development professionals who were not in this field prior to 2001, this policy restriction presents a new landscape to navigate when helping our retiring military clients. The official DoD memorandum providing specific hiring guidance was released in June 2017 and we have recently begun to see retired military returning to civilian DoD positions after waiting 180 days. Their experiences can help career advisors prepare others who may be choosing to follow the same path.


     So why would someone choose to pursue a job that could require them to wait six months before reporting to work? According to the MSPB report, over 40,000 military retirees were hired into civilian DoD positions immediately upon retiring from active duty between September 2001 and August 2014. Many of those retirees returned to the same office they left as a service member. This gives us some insight into the appeal. Familiarity and the desire to accelerate the transition to civilian life are perhaps the strongest motivators for retirees to seek DoD civilian employment. They are drawn to the similar mission, structure and benefits. They may have a vast network of relationships already established that can help ease them into the civilian workforce. For most, the DoD is an environment they know well, where they built their reputation and enjoyed career success.


How can a Career Services Provider help retiring military personnel who are pursuing DoD civilian employment?

     Encourage early participation in a Transition Assistance Program. These programs are designed to help military members transition from active duty to civilian employment by providing information and help with benefits, education and training programs, and employment assistance. Go to www.dodtap.mil for links to service specific programs.


     Help them explore more options. Some military retirees may seek DoD employment because they simply don't take the time to explore other possibilities. They may not know how their skills and experience can transfer to a non-DoD career. The 180 day rule only applies to civilian jobs within the DoD, which means there are other federal agency and defense contractor positions where their skills and experience would transfer. USAJobs.gov, cybercareers.gov, and intelligencecareers.gov are great resources for searching vacancies across the federal government.


     Manage their expectations. Some retiring military members seeking a DoD position may be hopeful that they will receive a waiver to the 180 day waiting period. Under the waiver process, the position must be openly advertised and full consideration given to all eligible candidates. Qualification requirements and timing of the vacancy must not be intentionally designed to be advantageous to any one particular applicant. Waivers are warranted only when the retiree is the highest qualified candidate among all who are being considered. With the attention brought to this process by the change in policy, waiver approval is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.


     Help them prepare financially. In a perfect scenario, the retiree will have their finances in order and a budget that easily allows them to live within their retirement income. It can happen, but not without prior planning. How will a six month employment pause impact their situation? Can their savings supplement their financial requirements? Will they need to find temporary work? Start the conversation with probing questions.


     Create a new mindset. Returning to the same organization after six months away can present many challenges by itself, but combining that with a change from a military role to a civilian role requires a whole new mindset. Pay grade is different from rank and demands different leadership and behavioral approaches. Returning to new leadership, new team members or new organizational priorities can create even more challenges. Taking advantage of training opportunities may help strengthen their professional portfolio and make the transition go a bit smoother.


     Decide how to use the time off. Your client may never have the opportunity to have this much free time again, and the time will go by fast. Having a tailored plan will help minimize the potential for regretting they didn’t use the time more intentionally. Will they reconnect with family and friends, take a road trip, focus on their health or fitness, tackle home projects, go back to school, complete a certification program, or start a business? The possibilities are endless. Help them make a plan to make the most of this rare opportunity.


     The 180 day restriction for DoD employment is the new reality for military retirees. With candid conversations and thoughtful planning, career advisors can ease the transition for their military clients. It affords us an opportunity to serve those who have served our country.


Stacy Hojnowski is a Career Development Advisor with the federal government who serves Department of Defense military and civilian clients. She can be reached at stacy.l.hojnowski.civ@mail.mil


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Dr CEC   on Monday 06/11/2018 at 06:05 PM

Ms Hojnowski's article is right on target! She describes a complicated policy in easy to understand terms and context. There is growing interest among our military members to seek DoD employment. Thanks for the sound advice and practical tips. We want to do the best for all of our veterans.

Professor Kuhlman   on Wednesday 06/13/2018 at 10:42 AM

Great article Ms Hojnowski! I recently went through this process and agree with everything you said. That 6 month transition period is a great time to use to reset your body and mind. But I have to agree, you must have a plan mentally and financially. Additionally, its not easy to get hired into the DoD employment system, have a several back-up plans as well in case things don't work out. I found the USO Pathfinder Program and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University Onward to Opportunity in Partnership with the Veterans Career Transition two great "FREE" programs offered that can make a difference. Again great article and good luck to all the Military Retirees in transition.

Waiting game   on Tuesday 04/16/2019 at 02:02 PM

Has anyone ever received a waiver? (Been waiting since receiving word I was selected but needed a waiver Oct 2018, now April 2019.)
Your suggestions are great on paper but not realistic.
Serving in specific jobs doesn't transfer well in civilian jobs.

Unusual situation   on Thursday 03/04/2021 at 09:57 PM

I am on active duty in the Navy with an approved retire_retain package. My retirement date is 1 April 2021, but I will be retained on active duty until 30 September 2021, when does the 180 day counter start?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.