The Defense Department has released a three-minute explainer video providing a basic, broad overview of the military's new retirement system, which is scheduled to take effect in 2018.
The video is part of a what the Pentagon promises will be a thorough financial literacy campaign as officials prepare troops and their families for the change, which will scale back the military's traditional pension plan while introducing new individual investment accounts. Similar to 401(k) retirement plans offered in the private sector, these new accounts will include matching cash contributions from the federal government.
Starting in January 2018, military personnel with fewer than 12 years of service must choose whether to opt into the new "blended" system or stay enrolled in the traditional pension plan. Officials estimate that group includes 1.6 million people.
Those with more than 12 years in uniform will remain enrolled in the traditional pension plan.
"We're keeping up with what the force of the future will look like," Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Schultz, a senior enlisted adviser at the Pentagon, says in the video. "We need to keep up with our civilian counterparts out there, being sure, as leadership, we answer every question for them, we educate them on the choices. ... But at the end of the day, it's going to be their personal decision to make."
Everyone who joins the military in 2018 and beyond will automatically be enroll in the new system.
In approving the new system, officials both in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill have championed the fact that this new system will, for the first time, ensure service members who don't stay in uniform for a full 20-year career will receive at least some retirement benefit upon leaving.
The move is not without controversy, however.
Notably, officials have yet to resolve one of the plan's key components: its lump-sum payout option. The American Academy of Actuaries issued a warning to the Pentagon in May, saying it risks shortchanging enlisted personnel specifically.
The Pentagon says its working to address the issue.
Meanwhile, officials have introduced the first of four courses that will help the force prepare for decision time. They're targeting the military's leaders now, individuals expected to be on the receiving end of questions from rank-and-file personnel, but the course is open to anyone. It's accessible via the department's Joint Knowledge Onlineportal.
It'll be December before a course is introduced that's tailored specifically for the troops who'll have to choose whether they want to opt in, officials say.
Retirement reform is a centerpiece of Washington's broad effort to overhaul key parts of the military's personnel expenditures, a series of moves — some ongoing — that have touched everything from healthcare to housing allowance.
The Pentagon views these ballooning costs as a threat to its ability to maintain a modern military.
Organizations that advocate on behalf of the nation's military personnel, by contrast, view these efforts as an attack on the quality-of-life-programs that were designed to offset the unique hardships troops and their families must endure.
The explainer video calls the new retirement plan a matter of "financial security."