promises to veterans and other prevarications

More than one hundred years ago, satirist Mark Twain called out statistics as just another fabrication people use to make a point. Everyone but perhaps, bureaucrats, understand that statistics are misused to appear to support whatever position people want them to hold. But sometimes they do have a role. A statistic I read earlier this month indicated that TEN THOUSAND people turn sixty-five every DAY in the United States. As a military retiree whose last period of service was in the Navy Reserve, the milestone I finally reached this year – was turning sixty. I have a lot of company.

While most are rolling their eyes or stifling a yawn at this point, I ask for your patience for another minute. One of the promises that the United States Government makes to men and women who serve in our military, is to care for them, particularly with health care, and financially compensate a veteran should she be injured as a result of service. For those who make the military a career, the Government promises to provide retirement pay. But as any reasonable adult knows, the Government bureaucracy, whether it one is seeking a drivers license, a building permit, a legal restraining order, or applying for military retirement pay, is a labyrinth of processes and procedures, and delay. While I am personally affected, I wondered what the scope of the issue might be with fellow veterans NOT getting what is owed to them.

From published figures, some 0.4 percent of all Americans have served in the U.S. military. Out of a United States population of approximately 300 million, that might be a total of 1.2 million American veterans living today. For the sake of argument, if 0.4 percent of the 10 thousand people turning 60 daily are veterans, that is four hundred every day. Another statistic reports that fifty percent of living US veterans were Reserve or National Guard member. If only 5 percent of those reservists or Guardsmen served for at least twenty years and retired, twenty “gray area” ( what the Navy calls eligible military retirees prior to age 60) apply to their respective military departments for retirement pay – EVERY DAY.

apply early

Twenty years or so after most Active Duty men and women complete their careers, retirement pay paperwork is processed by military pay offices and by most accounts, is automatically forthcoming. However, the fact is, in 2019, a Reserve or Guard member who should receive retirement pay, has to apply to the military branch to start the process. Pay is not automatically processed. Worse, the military department processing retirement cautions that the member should apply at a minimum ( in January 2019) eight months prior to the eligible month one turns sixty. The retire is cautioned to submit verification of all their service time (“point capture”) to correctly calculate the retirement benefit.

The Navy PERS-912 website displayed a notice in August 2019, that requests received in JANUARY 2019 were being processed at that time. A couple calls to the Navy, of hour-plus wait times, finally indicated that records had been forwarded to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for payment. At no time during the application and ensuing wait, did the Defense Department reveal that there was an additional backlog (delay) in processing records once the DFAS received a retiree pay claim. It took a visit to the local Congressional representative’s office to learn that the Government had many of the staff processing these sort of pay matters RETIRE without planning for their replacement, and no additional personnel were being hired in 2019.

I wonder if these retired civil servants have to wait more than a year for their check from Uncle Sugar?

“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.