The 15-year early retirement option will be available to certain categories of Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve officers, warrant officers and noncommissioned officers who are selected for involuntary separations because of promotion passovers and drawdown-related force management boards that meet in fiscal 2015.

The special program, which is officially called the Temporary Early Retirement Authority, is not an entitlement, but rather an option that to date has been limited to soldiers who are being involuntarily separated from active duty because of the drawdown, or in the case of some officers, because of non-selection for promotion.

Unlike the TERA option that was available during the drawdown of the 1990s, soldiers cannot volunteer for the benefit if they have not been selected for involuntary separation.

Congress earlier authorized the military services to use TERA as a force-shaping program through fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30, 2018.

The Army reviews the program annually, and the current version is authorized for use through Aug. 17, 2016.

TERA allows soldiers with at least 15, but fewer than 20 years of active service to receive the same benefits as those who retire with 20 or more years of service, except that their retirement pay is reduced, accordingly.

Soldiers who fail to qualify for TERA, but who have six to 15 years of active service at the time they are separated, generally qualify for involuntary separation pay, provided they are not being forced out for cause, such as a courts-martial conviction.

Involuntary separation pay is calculated by multiplying 10 percent of a soldier's basic pay at the time of separation by years and partial years of active service. The total is paid lump-sum, and is subject to taxation.

During fiscal 2015, which began Oct. 1, the Qualitative Service Program will be used in conjunction with the senior NCO boards that evaluate members of the Regular Army and the Active Guard and Reserve (Army Reserve) for advancement to sergeant first class and above. QSP is a force-shaping tool for the NCO corps that targets overstrength MOSs.

The master sergeant board that convenes Feb. 10 will consider sergeants first class for QSP, the sergeants first class board that convenes June 2 will consider staff sergeants and the sergeant major board that convenes Sept. 9 will consider master sergeants.

Captains and majors with at least six but fewer than 20 years of service generally qualify for TERA or involuntary separation pay when they receive a second passover for promotion to major or lieutenant colonel and are not picked up for selective continuation.

Captains and majors also qualify for force reduction benefits if they are selected by officer separation boards or enhanced Selective Early Retirement Boards.

During fiscal 2014 these type of boards designated 550 majors and 1,188 captains of the Army Competitive Category for separation or early retirement.

The Army has tentatively scheduled a new round of captain boards to meet in September, although the target year groups and other board details have not been announced. Presumably most of the officers selected by these boards will receive involuntary separation pay, as they will have fewer than 15 years of service and will not qualify for TERA.

National Guard officers serving under the provisions of federal law were not included in the early retirement option in the September 2012 directive establishing TERA as an Army force-shaping tool. However, a second directive issued in 2013 added federalized National Guard Active Guard and Reserve officers to the eligible population.

The TERA program now in effect authorizes the early retirement benefit for officers selected by the National Guard's Force Shaping Centralized Separation Board for Title 10 members.

The approval authority for early retirement under the provisions of TERA is the commanding general of the Human Resources Command.

Here are other policies that apply to the TERA program now in effect:

■ The early retirement option will not be extended to soldiers previously separated under the Voluntary Separation Incentive, Special Separation Benefit or Voluntary Separation Pay programs, or who are under evaluation for disability retirement under the provisions of Title 10, Chapter 61 of the U. S. Code.

■ Officers and enlisted soldiers who requested transfer of Post 9-11 G. I. Bill benefits to dependents before meeting the eligibility requirements for TERA are entitled to maintain transferred benefits without a further service obligation. However, TERA soldiers who previously did not transfer GI Bill benefits are no longer eligible to pass them on to dependents.

■ Soldiers who are approved for TERA will receive the same benefits as those who retire with 20 or more years of service except their retirement pay will be reduced. The basic TERA retired pay will be computed as described in Army Regulation 600-8-24 (Officer Transfers and Discharges). Interested soldiers should contact their local retirement services office for an estimate of their retired pay. ■