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.

“simple process” is not in the DOD Manual


No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. …..Calvin Coolidge

http://blog.acton.org/archives/70151-calvin-coolidges-warning-entrenched-bureaucracy.html

According to information I gleaned from a thorough scrub of several websites,  a Reservist who has retired from military service under the normal circumstances (not a disability retirement)  has to request payment of retirement pay beginning at age 60.   

Now I am the old Salt

For someone who has a current DOD identification card, this may be less of an exercise than I have encountered to date.   But for  a “gray-area Reservist”,  a member who received retirement orders pending receipt of pay after age sixty,  this posed questions I thought best to get answered before I made some errors and had to resubmit.

You may never have dealt with a bureaucracy the size of the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration.  But if you have ever dealt with a local planning board or other agency, you may have some idea.  Prior experience online directed me to look at the official Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS).   When I found the proper sub-department for Reserve retirees it directed me to another website.  And a third. I used the telephone at last and actually reached a live person quickly.  While the representative was able to locate my record,  she could not tell me other than what I already knew.  When I did find a couple forms online,  editions more than sixteen years old, it seemed this information was what they already had on file.

Re-enlist, get a check. Retire:  who are you?

 The BUPERS website directed me to solicit assistance with retirement questions from the local military support office; I drove over to the military office that had served me while in the Navy Reserve nine years earlier.  After a lovely chat with a senior enlisted personnel clerk,  I spoke with a career counselor for a “package” that would include material needed for retirement pay requests.   After waiting in a line, I found that all “retired” reservists like myself had to go through, yes,  BUPERS, for these retirement pay questions.  

I did catch one tidbit of information.   The Department of the Navy is about a month late in a reported ten-month window prior to the member’s sixtieth birthday, sending a package of everything the bureaucracy needs before making payment.  I will make another call to BUPERS this week to find out whether this “package” has been mailed.  I probably will go back to the VA for a disability re-assessment.  When dealing with a Government bureaucracy,  blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, and muscle fatigue are common.   That’s gotta be worth something?