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.

The American Experiment

“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

https://nccs.net/blogs/our-ageless-constitution/will-the-great-american-experiment-succeed

In 2019, the United States of America has never been more dis-unified. And the quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, about America as a republic – if we can keep it, never seemed more germaine. In the history of the world, war and subjugation has only maintained unity and “peace” for a matter of time. Through trade, common language, governance, science, cultural, religious, and philosophical ideas were passed down to the western world. Babylonians, Persians, Greeks,Romans and Ottomans spread a unifying message cemented by armies. In Asia, empires of China, Japan, India, and in Southeast Asia rose, fell and spread their influence. In the pre-Columbian New World, native empires rose, spread their influence across the continents. All rose, declined and were conquered by war, famine, or the petty squabbles and self-interest of people.

Since the first settlers and explorers from western Europe came to the New World, the same forces have been at work. The United States of America, was forged out of all these ideas, and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and through conflict. It took a Civil War, two World Wars, and nearly a century for words enshrined in these documents to be embraced by the majority in America. Ideas that subjugated people based on skin color or religion still exist in the world, but in the United States, power-seeking politicians, academics and lobbyists are the ones now who threaten America’s future. For 243 years, America has welcomed immigrants, and as “Americans”, their talents and ideas helped the United States remain independent and unique in the world. Despite all the voices to the contrary, America is still exceptional; while many risk hardship and death to emigrate to Europe or to the USA, few seem willing to do so, to leave America to go in the opposite direction: into China, Russia, Sudan, or Iran.

The United States has indeed wandered from the creed that bound us together in the crucible of war. Many of those today, who have served in uniform, seen horror of war and the oppression of people around the world, are more committed to preserving our unity, our nation and our culture- our great American experiment, than those proselytize for socialism, rights without responsibilities, and demand reparations for our “shameful” history. Let us not listen to the voices that crave power, or those who condemn America, or those who use violence to silence American patriotism and nationalism. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, let us hasten to retrace our steps, and move together along the road toward peace, liberty and safety.

chasing after wind

better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind

Ecclesiastes 4: 6 (NIV)

I listen to an investment talk show on the radio Saturday mornings while driving home from my prayer-hike in the Mission Trails Park (San Diego, CA). The hosts were commenting that the House (Congress) has recently approved changing working Americans retirement savings programs (the SECURE act) to help people who put little to no money aside for their “old age”. The radio show’s hosts were remarking how consumer debt is growing again, and with workers left to voluntarily invest in company 401K plans, IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and funding emergency savings ( e.g. six months of expenses), fewer than four in ten are setting money aside. With consumerism driving cycles of economic growth followed by downturns, unemployment, and bankruptcies since the 1970s, are we headed there again?

Perhaps it is one of the failures of a developed nation that savings and prudent investment is not taught in the K – 12 grades nor in colleges. And young adults, free of parental guidance, are heavily marketed to obtain credit and jump into the consumer lifestyle. After September 11th, our youth grew up with continual exposure to negative future images – homelessness, refugees, terrorist attacks at home and abroad, a bleak economic outlook, and hostility toward “traditional values”. It seems almost forgivable that young people are seeking to have it “now” rather than later.

For the last of the Baby Boomers, for Generation X, and Millennials, the promises of Government, particularly those seeking public office by positioning themselves as champions of the disadvantaged, should sound like a broken record of the past cycles. For those between thirty and sixty years of age, the financial missteps of the past should have served as a lesson to improve one’s financial security. Into one’s Forties, obtaining a trade or marketable skill (regardless of one’s “passion”) can still provide for one’s retirement. The traditional “invaluable employee” mentality should improve wages. If wage or employment benefits stagnate, different employment has been increasingly available.

Like Solomon four thousand years ago expressed, seeking to keep up with the consumerism of one’s neighbors, rather than living prudently leads to “chasing after wind”. Delaying gratification, investing prudently, living within one’s means, and looking to your own welfare instead of the Government’s plans for you, leads to a golden “old age”.

domestic tranquility

The basic needs of any person are food, shelter, and clothing.  In modern society, people have expectations that needs include healthcare, education and sanitation.  But people also have emotional needs: safety, security, comfort, and significance.   In the Twenty First Century,  many people are willing to sacrifice personal freedom for the sake of “needs” provided by Government.  Of course,  people who demand a king  and assume “their side” will benefit,  have historically been oppressed.

When the American nation’s founders established the basic framework in the Constitution,  they knew their history: those subjugated by a king had little control in how they lived (general welfare); little experience of equity or fairness between the governing and the governed (justice); and few limits on role of Government in people’s lives ( safeguard of domestic tranquility and common defense).  Because they understood that people given a taste of power and access to others’ money, always want more,  they were deliberate in creating a balancing act.

In the third decade of the third century since the Constitution was established, the nation is losing the respect for the differences that made it unique in world history.   Unity as an American, with a common language, culture, and history is all but extinct.  Respect for civil authority, freedom to worship as one pleases, and hold differing opinions, is rarely exhibited today.   Contempt for opponents, and ever-increasing Government control is common.  Worse still, officials who have publicly-stated intent to abrogate the fundamental balance provided by an Executive, Legislative and Judicial separation of powers, and personal liberties guaranteed in our Constitution –  have been appointed (not elected),  elected and re-elected.  As Benjamin Franklin once said, the USA is a constitutional republic, which he understood, to keep in check,  its citizens would have to be informed and involved in its affairs whether local or international.   In contrast to other forms of government,  the citizens can (when exercised) direct our representatives to compromise and cooperate to get things done.   

One can only mentor, teach and ultimately, hope,  people who now believe that anyone who arrives – by whatever means –  in the territory should be a citizen, that “socialism”  despite many aspects that indicate fallibility, is superior to capitalism, and in distribution of other’s wealth, will pause to reflect.  No social construct is perfect.   And those who achieve power, wealth and influence, in the post-Constitution world, may not tolerate any disruption to “domestic tranquility”.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble, United States Constitution ( reprinted in https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/preamble

Support “Blue Water” Vietnam Veterans

As a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), I am motivated to act upon issues that affect my fellow veterans.    This is an action request for American citizens to send to your Senators urging them to support a measure to provide health care to eligible Vietnam veterans,  so-called “Blue Water Veterans”.  We know of the exposure to Agent Orange and others by troops on the ground, but there are those whose exposure is  from the handling, transport and storage of defoliant offshore, as well as use in the Korean DMZ and elsewhere.

Background: During the Vietnam War, veterans who served in the offshore waters of Vietnam drank, bathed in, and cooked with water contaminated by Agent Orange. They are now arbitrarily and unjustly denied benefits for illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure. On July 25, 2018, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018. This bipartisan legislation would end the injustice of denying care and benefits to veterans who suffer from life-threatening health conditions.

Please copy and send the following letter via email,  or print and send.  Your Senator ‘s contact information is found here.

SUBJECT:  Please Take Action on Blue Water Navy Bill

Honorable Senator ______:

As your constituent, I write to request you to urge the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the full Senate to swiftly pass H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018. This bipartisan bill was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives nearly three months ago and would end the injustice of denying care and benefits to veterans who suffer from life-threatening health conditions.

Recent statements by the Department of Veterans Affairs dispute scientific evidence that veterans who served in the coastal waters of Vietnam during the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that has been found to be associated with the development of rare cancers and other health conditions. However, the National Academy of Medicine (formally called the Institute of Medicine) study entitled Veterans and Agent Orange (Update 2014) found that existing evidence shows possible routes of exposure for Blue Water Navy veterans, which means existing evidence should not be used to exclude Blue Water Navy veterans. One thing is undeniable: thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans are suffering and dying from the same conditions as veterans who served in-country during the Vietnam War. Time is running out for many Blue Water Navy veterans. The Senate must not delay further while Blue Water Navy veterans sicken and die from diseases related to exposure to Agent Orange.

The brave men and women who wear the uniform of our nation are asked to serve in the roughest and most dangerous environments on Earth. When they are injured or made ill as a result of such service, a grateful nation must provide them the care and benefits they need to cope with their disabilities. The Senate must do the right thing by passing H.R. 299 before the end of the year.

Sincerely,

<your name / mailing address>