remain calm

I get a choice every time I have to open my mouth: that it can be with civility and dignity and grace – or not.

Dan Perino, https://www.brainyquote.com

Civility. Remaining calm, cool and collected, my father said, when you are feeling frustrated, can help you work with difficult people, a difficult situation, or when timeliness is a factor. It is a casualty of the modern world. Often, we can be frustrated by bureaucracy made doubly difficult with technology. And often, particularly among those my age and older, talking to a “live person” trumps all the automated menu selections, voice mail, email, and FAQ website responses.

For multiple reasons in the past couple months, I have had opportunities to “lose it”. As a self-employed business person, I have performed work over multiple days per month, and multiple months without receiving contractually-promised payment for service. We have had to make inquiries via email and telephone, and have gotten ambiguous, “things are somewhat behind” responses from administrative personnel. This is becoming an issue I may need to be civil, as in litigation, to resolve.

Personally, I am also somewhat frustrated by a pension that is months behind schedule. I retired from the military as a Reservist, and waited nearly ten years to receive the promised pension when I turned sixty years old. First, was the requirement, to request payment, along with various documents I needed to submit to the Government nearly eight months in advance. And then months past the promised start of the pension, to wait till my online account indicated it recognized me as a “retiree” — but without indicating whether payment would be forthcoming. I am remaining calm but it is work.

18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,

    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

Proverbs 15: 18 (NIV)

And then there was the change in health insurance, from an employer plan to a federally-subsidized and managed Tri-care plan. The former was really quite exceptional, but the new plan has had some ‘bumps’, one involving an authorization for a prescription I have been using for 20 years. (As I determined by a telephone conversation with a live representative today, the responsibility was on the physician’s office to correctly authorize it.)

Basically, with each interaction I have had with an individual, when the ‘aggrieved party’ (me) recognizes the humanity of all parties concerned, things go better. (A computer database is only as good as the person entering the data.) As long as I treat people (operators, assistants, customer service representatives, and doctors) politely, but resolutely, everything works out – eventually.

And when possible, get people you interact with laughing or at least smiling. I had to include this ancient clip from one of my all-time favorite movies, Animal House. When everything is going nuts, here’s the one guy trying to help other remain calm.

a sea-dog’s mystical signs in chicken, bones, and Internet

Photo by Bezalel Thilojan on Pexels.com

“Why do chickens cross the road?” Yesterday, I encountered 3 of them doing exactly that on my early morning dog walk. And that evening, at our church men’s fellowship, I found we were eating chicken wings together before our devotional meeting.

After our dog- walk this morning, I had the urge to check the Navy pay system website, “Mypay” again for any sign that my pension was being processed. For the last couple months, I have been “retirement pay” eligible but have not been showing up in the online system. Of course, I am not superstitious, and don’t search entrails, bones, nor “signs”, but I did send a few prayers heavenward to ask whether I was rash in becoming “retired”.

I don’t know whether the prayers, or chicken had anything to do with it, but after the morning walk today, the website welcomed me with a “Retiree Pay” banner. No indication of payment, yet, but perhaps I might “roll” some chicken bones tonight. In my time in the Navy, my fellow Chief Petty Officers and I used to joke that we consulted the ‘rolling bones’ to help in our decision-making.

On my way home tonight, my spouse informed me we’re having baked chicken for dinner. Perhaps, once I get my retirement backpay, I should get those ancient sailor tattoos after all.

drowning protection, image credit, tattoodo.com

hook ups

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

For anyone who has served honorably in the military, the experience, and camaraderie among enlisted men and women (and undoubtedly among commissioned officers, too) indelibly stamps one’s character. We tend to recognize each other, long after having served, from our demeanor, appearance, and way of speaking. Sometimes, we can approach each other with a particular attitude or sense of humor which can be off-putting for any but another military veteran. It’s a veteran sort of thing.

Over the years, as I have gotten my car serviced, purchased materials at a home improvement store, or had work done at home, a veteran is often one of those doing the work. What branch of service or unit were you in? Where did you serve? What was your occupation? Small-talk that builds acquaintance. At the DMV, and the County Recorder office, when I use my retired military ID card, I have encountered veterans, and family members or spouse of a Brother or Sister veteran. And despite age differences, or service during different conflicts, those who can, generally will hook a “brother” up.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

In context, “hook ups” to a military member or veteran, means assistance, discount, bypassing bureaucratic “red tape”, exerting additional effort, and such, to meet the need of another vet or service member. As it happened today, I had requested a junk-removal service to come haul off several items that were bulky and difficult for me to be rid of.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

One of the men who came was a Marine, “not currently serving” (whom civilians might regard as a “former” Marine, but a Marine should tell you that is a misnomer). He saw my “retired” Navy flag and asked me what I did in the service. We chatted a few moments as he and his partner hauled everything into their truck. And I received a little discount – probably 10 – 15 percent. Anytime you get a little help, particularly when it helps your wallet, it can be a nice “hook up”.

“Gray Area” to Blue retirement

My previous post talked about the not-so-smooth process that members of the Retired Navy Reserve (“Gray-Area” reservists”) who are turning sixty in 2019 are facing. For my shipmates and their families, I need to pass on what I have encountered to help you with the process.

First things first

The first step is to submit the member’s application for retirement pay to PERS-912. While the Navy’s website instructs the member to apply within six months of her 60th birthday, it would be more prudent to apply nine months to a year beforehand. An article in the Navy Times from August 2018, describes that the Navy was not prepared for the number of applications the last of the Baby Boomer Navy retirees submitted. And the current website advises the department is processing applications received eight months ago.

One unusual detail, which seems to justify an experience I had with the Veterans Administration evaluating me for disability (things that occurred during my last period of Regular Navy (DD-214-issued) service), is the Navy Retirement branch not possessing complete military records for the period after the member transfers from Active Duty service to the Navy Reserve. I remarried while I was Reservist, and though that information was entered into my Reserve record, into DEERS, and I received pay accordingly while activated, PERS-912 – four months after my January submission – asked me to provide a marriage certificate.

Blue ID card after 60

After the member submits an application (forms DD-108 and DD-2656) found on the PERS-912 website, the Navy clerk should contact the member acknowledging receipt within a week. A letter from PERS-912 usually follows in the snail mail. In subsequent months, the member turns sixty, and requires a new ID card, before eligibility for medical benefits and other access privileges are “turned on”. While I am unfamiliar whether “Gray Area” reservists who had enrolled in TriCare ( the medical insurance system for military members and their families) prior to turning sixty have the same issue, the TriCare enrollment site does not allow a member to enroll from the expiration date of one’s ID card until it is renewed. However, there is no information provided on the website clearly describing why the links are unworkable. Thus this tidbit is instructive.

On the website to request an appointment for a new ID card, there may be a statement about a window from sixty to ninety days prior to card expiration to renew, but that is NOT APPLICABLE to Reserve Retirees turning 60. The member can only renew on or after his sixtieth birthday.

Patience is rewarded eventually

Should efforts to contact PERS-912, the clerk that contacted the retiree about processing one’s record, may prove unsuccessful, there are additional contact numbers though not intuitively obvious. After the first of the month, when the member might expect to receive retirement pay (via Direct Deposit) comes and goes without payment, the obvious step is to contact first DFAS, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. MyPay, which is the same one used during the member’s service period may have an ambiguous non-statement. Contacting a representative requires a telephone and a lot of patience. Waiting on hold may take an hour or more to speak to someone. For Reservist retirees, use this number:

1-866-827-5672, Option 1

Be prepared for phone disconnection, the computer system to be “down”, and the like. If DFAS does not have your retirement pay being processed, the member is directed back to PERS-912. To avoid more confusion, but not the “on hold” of an hour or more, call

1-833-330-6622

At least, from every indication that one may find via social media from fellow Reservist retirees, payment does come through, and backpay is provided to the date of eligibility. It is not clear whether those members who first apply for retirement pay AFTER turning sixty will receive retroactively.

the check is in the mail

and other misadventures of Navy Reserve retirement

Ten years ago, in August, I began my last months of work for the United States Navy as a uniformed member of the Navy Reserve. The following April I officially retired from the Navy Reserve. While many of my fellow Sailors retired at 38, 40, or 45, I was then 50 years old. For many Reservists who do not elect discharge, they are placed in a status the Navy calls “Gray-Area Reservist” for the next fifteen or twenty years. Like me, when eligible to draw retirement pay at age 60, we would receive retirement pay calculated from the Active Duty rates in effect at that time.

I turned sixty a little over a week ago. I expected a couple of enrollments, phone calls, and some waiting to be required. And predictably, it is a Government bureaucracy after all, it has not been a smooth process. For anyone familiar with the Affordable Care Act and the complexity of the online process of a Government-run website, the application for military retiree- healthcare (TriCare) was somewhat nebulous.

As it turned out, when I and my spouse got our expired ID cards replaced ( needed because I changed status at my birthday) , the healthcare site I had visited several times last month then became user-friendly-ish. Apparently, it only worked for the brief time I, prudently, enrolled my spouse (first) in a healthcare plan. Telephone numbers resulted in long wait times or directed me to the same website where I had issues. For the next week, that website obstinately would not let me complete my own enrollment! Finally, I got online but it asked me to pick between two confusing status changes I had not seen before. I picked the more unintelligible of the two, and successfully completed enrollment.

As for processing my retirement pay, a different bureaucracy altogether. It was a redesign of the website I had years ago monitored for my Navy Reserve pay, but the messages this year only told me it had nothing to tell me. No updates. And for anyone who has tried to use a telephone – a last option – it requires more patience than most can muster. After three hours on hold (I was disconnected once), then reaching a person only to be told their computers were offline, I ultimately learned that my records were still at the Navy Department. And from the Navy Department – a telephone number I only discovered by reading some commentary and related military-news websites – my record was still in the queue. Apparently a document the Navy should have had for the prior nine years I had been in uniform, that I then re-sent them – held up processing. I decided to give them an additional month before trying again.

While many of my peers, my children and their peers – Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, all believe in the Government as the best delivery system for Free Healthcare, Free Education, Free Housing, and Happiness, they had better stock up on anxiety medication now. I have patiently waited for ten years to receive the promised pension for Navy service between 1977 and 2010. I can wait a little longer because I put aside a fund over the last twenty years to live on one day. Until the Government decides to manage THAT – and we are stuck in a jam of red tape and offline computer systems – I will not be in a bread line.

Mesothelioma-affected veterans

The Mesothelioma Center provides the following information for veterans and their families to get educated and find support for veterans affected by mesothelioma. Thanks to Samatha Litten of the Public Outreach Department of the Mesothelioma Center for providing this information:

Countless veterans are currently suffering from life-threatening illnesses that are a result of exposure to asbestos, a material that was commonly used in hundreds of military applications, products, and ships because of its resistance to fire. Veterans who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma even qualify for special benefits from the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs.

We recently published an educational guide about mesothelioma prognosis: