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”.

“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