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?

Navy Reserve Retirement

For me, if I have done my duty, the continued approbation of Congress and the Marine Committee will make me rich indeed, and far more than reward me for a life of service devoted from principles of philanthropy, to support the dignity of human nature. John Paul Jones

 when you tire of the b#@@s&!t

In recent months I have been thinking of retiring – again.  A few of my civilian friends do not want to retire because they associate it with an early demise.  A few of my industry peers cannot retire because they have expenses that they cannot afford without working.  But other friends, military retirees, private sector employees, businessmen and other with thirty years or more years in the state or federal system,  decided they were financially, and mentally, ready to retire and did so.   Of course, an important consideration for retiring, besides financial security, is having interests that keep a retiree involved.   While a boat sounds tempting to while away time in my old age, I think I will prefer buying a ticket to go cruising rather than paying for maintenance and dock fees.

making good choices 

I am rather fortunate in that I have a portion of my retirement plan based on a twenty-six year career in the Navy.  While a little more than half was spent on Active Duty,  the remainder – and in fact, on the date I retired, I  was a Selected Reservist.   For the twenty years that have preceded my turning sixty and eligibility for retirement pay,  I have been working in the private sector, accumulating  401K investments and paying down a home in California.  Much of this has been supported and augmented by my spouse having a well-paying career.  And putting off  “keeping up with the Joneses” that so many others have fallen into.  From studying and application from numerous financial educators, advisers, and both good and poor examples in your ‘circle’, almost everyone who plans carefully from their earliest working years – or with arduous self-denial and fiscal obsessiveness in later, higher-salaried years can retire with some degree of security.   

war, sea duty and broken service

I applied to go back on Active Duty, in the same rating I had originally entered the service in the late 1970s.  For the next thirteen years,  I had traveled the world, but the bureaucracy and politics regarding advancement opportunities and changing personal goals inspired a change.  I left the service at the end of my enlistment in 2000.   But a few months later,  I enlisted (again) in the Navy Reserve!   To sum it up,   I retired with almost 26 years of service as a Senior Chief Cryptologic Maintenance Technician,.  But as a Reservist, the retirement system is calculated not to pay the retiree until he or she turns 60 years of age. 

Second, the retiree must file for her retirement stipend on or after age sixty.  The unique feature of Reserve retirement, is that the service member who is eligible for and requests retirement after 20 good years – the Navy sends a statement to each member when they have qualified – can transfer to the Retired Reserve without pay until age 60.  Retirement is calculated as though the member continues to remain on the service rolls.  The retirement calculator uses the Active Duty member’s base pay – in effect for their final paygrade – at the time one starts drawing payment.   One other caveat determining the pay calculation is whether the service member entered military service initially prior to September 1, 1980.   Those retired Reserve members like me, will receive their pay calculation based on the paygrade held at the time of retirement.  All  enlistees after September, 1980 retire have their pay calculated from the last three years of service regardless of their final pay grade, divided by 36 months.  

veterans’ benefits

Additionally,  when a service member retires, it is worth all the bureaucratic tape, to file for review by the Veterans’ Administration for any potential Service-Connected Disability rating.  Even a finding of a connection, but a rating of zero – the condition is not posing debilitation in health at the present time – is able to help those members through other benefits.  In California,  children of a service-connected disability -veteran or retiree, are eligible to attend a UC or CSU university-system school tuition-free.

For more information

  •  DOD Military Reserve retirement compensation information 
  • Navy Department website for Reserve Retirement. (Each service branch has similar sites.)
  • Application for retirement pay upon reaching age 60,  DD  Form 108
  • Data  DD Form 2656 
  • BUPERS INSTRUCTION 1001.39, ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES FOR NAVY RESERVISTS ON INACTIVE DUTY, Chapt 20