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?

“Golden years” or “Fools Gold”?

The idea of outliving my money scares the hell out of me. But worse, would be to have a chronic health problem, and being unable to get the help needed to maintain a “quality of life”.

Unless the United States becomes insolvent, a military retiree or a combat veteran will not go without some social or health services. Being eligible to obtain certain benefits or services, however, is not a guarantee of actually receiving aid. If the person seeking benefits does not have an advocate- either a relative or some knowledgeable case worker – the system may never actually connect the need with the claimant. In recent months, a veteran who had been eligible, for decades, for a benefit – and had not received it – was compensated by the Veterans Administration with back pay. This was a significant boost in that veteran’s access to healthcare and standard of living. In another case, a combat veteran, with a heart condition, received lifesaving surgery, and when his deplorable living conditions were investigated, received a stipend and moved to suitable housing.

Recent requests for aid from an elderly family member, not a veteran, living thousands of miles away, highlighted a similar dilemma. Care is available, but several conditions including a debilitating nerve disease, a passive nature, and the anonymity of living in a huge city complicate matters. Yet, with services and people available to render support, a mentally-competent person, elderly civilian or veteran, has to voluntarily accept assistance. In this instance the relative refused it.

As a veteran, a retiree, and having a close network of family, friends, social and civic organizations, I will unlikely face the prospect of outliving aid. For many though, without “connection” and proper planning during a person’s working life, post-retirement “golden years” can be disappointing “fools gold”.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

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

Exit, stage left

In the 1960s, Saturday morning cartoons were a favored diversion as I had my bowl of Fruit Loops (or oatmeal, when my mother intervened in my breakfast). The cartoon lion, Snagglepuss, had a trademark saying whenever he faced a challenging situation. ” Exit, stage right” or “Exit stage left, even!” However, I was never one to flee from demanding tasks. I think of Snagglepuss now as a classy way to exit this career and explore some new roads.

I am old enough to remember a simpler time, for kids anyway, when the American work ethic was the envy of the world. Parents, neighbors, and teachers taught me values and work ethic. I already had figured out about hard work, respecting others, and making your own way in the world, since I earned money from before and after-school jobs since I was 14. After a few years in the service, and then four years in college, I went back into the service in 1987 and remained in uniform until 2010. The unit held a great ceremony, gave me a nice party, and a wonderful shadow box of my military memories. I was already working at Viasat, so I had my second career already figured out.

I retired from my second longest career today. Well, technically, my last day is tomorrow, but our division threw me, and a co-worker also retiring in August, a retirement party. This latest career was the closest I have come to the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. And now, what does a two-career veteran do at age sixty?

Start my own business, or more accurately, support my spouse who started a business. I am sure the Senior Chief or the Engineering technician can tackle just about any business issue.

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.

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”.