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4 Tips for Advising Military Veterans in Retirement

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two people shaking hands in front of closeup of American flag (Photo: Shutterstock)

When I joined the Army after high school, I had no idea what I was getting into. However, I quickly learned a few things to keep me out of trouble: Never be first; never be last; no matter how much you prepare, Murphy will find a way to surprise you; and train like your life depends on it because one day, it might. When I left the Army full time and started working with veterans and their families to help them build a legacy in retirement, I didn’t realize how much these principles would help me with that. Below are a few considerations to take into account if you are working with veterans.

1. Know why you want to work with veterans.

If you’ve ever worked with a veteran before, you probably already know their tolerance for nonsense is low. So, make sure you understand why you want to be there ahead of time. Being a veteran, a veteran spouse, or having a connection to the military will go a long way if you’re looking to advise others in the community. If a veteran doesn’t feel that your intentions are legitimate, they will let you know.

This doesn’t mean you have to serve to be qualified to work with veterans but having a strong connection with veterans for any reason can help build trust through the life of the relationship, something that is crucial for any financial advisor/client partnership. Providing financial advisory services to this group can be an opportunity to give back to those that have given so much for us.

2. Have a way to connect with veterans and their families.

Having served in the Army for almost 10 years, I find that the first 15-20 minutes of every meeting with another veteran consists of us talking about what we did, using a different language of acronyms, random numbers, long official titles, different duty locations. That time spent discussing deployments is how two veterans connect and find a commonality. However, if you aren’t as well-versed in military lifestyle or terminology, that is OK; there are alternate ways to find connections with your clients, whether veteran or civilian.

Find a connecting point between yourself and the veteran and their family. If you’re a military spouse, you can talk about that. If your parents served and you remember some of the bases you lived on as a kid, that can help. Veterans are not other-worldly and can connect with just about anyone the same as the rest of society. But, if you want to stand out, having something to help connect yourself to what they know can go a long way, even if it’s not directly related to military service.

3. Realize that retirement can look like a lot of things for veterans.

Most veterans qualify for retirement with a government pension or hybrid retirement plan after just 20 years. Depending on their age when they joined, that could mean starting retirement as early as 37 years old. For many veterans in this scenario, it involves starting a second career or working towards goals that they have put on the back burner during service.

Currently, I am attending Belmont University in my hometown of Nashville, TN, for my MBA. During this time, I’ve met veterans in their 40s, 50s, and even their 60s working toward a degree. Some are working toward the goal of achieving higher levels of education, while others are taking college courses for the first time in their lives.

I have also seen clients that graduated from military universities with multiple degrees start taking trade courses because they have always had a passion for working on cars or fixing up homes. Whatever it might be, veterans are unique in the fact that they have a lot of options for what they are going to do after they hang up their boots. As a result, no two financial or retirement plans will ever look the same with veterans.

4. Understand this is more than just retirement for a veteran.

Leaving a career after 30 or 40 years can be difficult for anyone. However, for veterans, it can be the hardest thing they’ve ever had to do. For most, it’s more than a career. Being a soldier, Marine, sailor or airman is part of their identity. So, putting the uniform up can be a difficult transition for some.

For others, however, this is something they have been looking forward to for years. Some veterans have spent a good portion of their careers away from family and friends for long periods of time. Retirement can be a chance to reconnect and spend more time with spouses, kids, grandkids, family members and friends.

So, you can never think of this as them walking away from a 9-5 job to start fishing, for example, like a stereotypical civilian retirement. For most veterans, this is what they sacrificed for, and as their advisor, you should keep this in mind when you discuss their goals and long-term plans.

Working with veterans can be an enriching opportunity. These are the men and women who have volunteered to sacrifice and live as most people could never imagine. Hearing the stories of these veterans is always a reminder of how significant a burden they carried so we can enjoy the freedoms we have every day. This can be a chance to give back and serve those that have served us for so long. Keeping these considerations in mind can help ensure you provide the best possible planning opportunities for veterans.

Garrett Sorensen is a Relationship Manager at AAFMAA Wealth Management & Trust. He served in the active-duty Army for almost ten years as an Airborne Artilleryman and has deployed to the Paktika and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan. He also continues to serve in the Tennessee National Guard.