National Guard July 2016 : Page 30

Leaving the Gray Area Guardsmen with 20 years are entitled to a pension at age 60, but you have to prime the pump to get the monthly checks started BY BOB HASKELL ETIRED LT. COL. DAVID SUPER ’s time as a National Guard officer ran out in September 1997, after 31 combined years of traditional and full-time service, when he reached his mandatory removal date. He was 51 years old. Technically, the South Dakota Army Guardsman retired from the military. But because he didn’t have 20 full years on active duty, either in the active component or as an Active Guard and Reserve officer, he couldn’t immediately begin collecting the biggest benefit he earned from his service—his monthly pension. Super entered what is called the “gray area,” retired but not yet eligible for retirement pay. He and his wife could shop at the Exchange and commissary on military installations. TRICARE covered their medical needs for two years. They also had access to Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities and programs. But he had to spend nine years in the gray area before Uncle Sam showed him the retirement money. There are tens of thousands of David Supers out there, men and women who served 20 years in the Guard or Re-serve knowing they must wait, unlike their active brethren, until age 60 to begin receiving their monthly military pen-sion. It’s called a “nonregular” retirement. The pension amount also differs from an active retire-ment. It’s determined by a formula (box, page 32) that fac-tors in one’s highest paygrade and the number of retirement points accumulated over a career. This retirement pay is their reward for the rest of their lives for serving at least 20 “good years,” accumulating at least 50 retirement points per year. Traditional Guardsmen and 30    NATIONAL GUARD   JULY 2016   WWW . NGAUS . ORG R Reservists typically earn 78 points each year, including 15 for merely belonging, by attending weekend drills and annual training. They can earn up to 365 points per year, or 366 for a leap year, while on active duty. Approximately 47 percent of officers and 15 percent of enlisted personnel in all active and reserve ranks stay in uni-form long enough to qualify for retirement pay, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report. There were 382,000 retired Guardsmen and Reservists from all Defense Department components in fiscal 2013, an increase from the 2005 total of 280,680. More than 10,000 Guard soldiers and airmen retire every year. Many of them enter the Retired |

Leaving The Gray Area

Bob Haskell


Guardsmen with 20 years are entitled to a pension at age 60, but you have to prime the pump to get the monthly checks started

RETIRED LT. COL. DAVID SUPER’s time as a National Guard officer ran out in September 1997, after 31 combined years of traditional and full-time service, when he reached his mandatory removal date. He was 51 years old.

Technically, the South Dakota Army Guardsman retired from the military. But because he didn’t have 20 full years on active duty, either in the active component or as an Active Guard and Reserve officer, he couldn’t immediately begin collecting the biggest benefit he earned from his service—his monthly pension.

Super entered what is called the “gray area,” retired but not yet eligible for retirement pay. He and his wife could shop at the Exchange and commissary on military installations. TRICARE covered their medical needs for two years. They also had access to Morale, Welfare and Recreation facilities and programs.

But he had to spend nine years in the gray area before Uncle Sam showed him the retirement money.

There are tens of thousands of David Supers out there, men and women who served 20 years in the Guard or Reserve knowing they must wait, unlike their active brethren, until age 60 to begin receiving their monthly military pension. It’s called a “nonregular” retirement.

The pension amount also differs from an active retirement. It’s determined by a formula (box, page 32) that factors in one’s highest paygrade and the number of retirement points accumulated over a career.

This retirement pay is their reward for the rest of their lives for serving at least 20 “good years,” accumulating at least 50 retirement points per year. Traditional Guardsmen and Reservists typically earn 78 points each year, including 15 for merely belonging, by attending weekend drills and annual training. They can earn up to 365 points per year, or 366 for a leap year, while on active duty.

Approximately 47 percent of officers and 15 percent of enlisted personnel in all active and reserve ranks stay in uniform long enough to qualify for retirement pay, according to a 2014 Congressional Research Service report. There were 382,000 retired Guardsmen and Reservists from all Defense Department components in fiscal 2013, an increase from the 2005 total of 280,680. More than 10,000 Guard soldiers and airmen retire every year. Many of them enter the Retired Reserve as they segue into the gray area.

As they approach age 60, anticipation for their retirement pay begins to mount. Will the system work?Will they really get their money?

The answer is invariably yes.

“If you hunt and dig deep enough, you’re always going to find where certain things maybe went astray,” says retired New York Army Guard Lt. Col. Mike Kelly, who spent four years in the gray area before his retirement pay began arriving without a hiccup. “But I think, by and large, that whole process and that system works extremely well.”

But it’s not automatic. Individuals have to look out for themselves, especially Guard and Reserve retirees who run the risk of being forgotten after they have disappeared from their units and into the gray area.

The Army determined some time ago “that the Guard and the Army Reserve does a good job of taking care of the soldiers to get them to retirement, and then the first thing that happens is that everybody gets amnesia that they ever existed,” says retired Col. Craig Ekman, the Army Guard’s human resource specialist for retirement services.

That concern, in part, led the Army to create the Soldier for Life program as a new online home for retired soldiers. The idea is, once a soldier, always a soldier, Ekman says, and the Army is trying to do a better job of taking care of its own. The website at https://soldierforlife.army.mil includes information such as preparing to retire and being retired.

Another helpful site for Army Guard gray-area retirees is operated by the Army Human Resources Command at www.hrc.army.mil. It has information on how to apply for retirement and downloadable versions of the forms (box, page 31) required.

Information on the forms the Air Force requires of Air Guard retirees is available at the Air Force’s online Total Force Service Center at www.arpc.afrc.af.mil. The site also has a portal for retired Air Guardsmen to apply for retirement pay.

In addition, some states hold annual seminars for those gray-area retirees approaching 60.

As much as people are striving to help, however, retirees have to help themselves in the same way that senior citizens have to sign up for Social Security benefits.

“They have to apply for retirement,” Ekman says. “If they don’t, nobody’s going to come looking for them. If they don’t apply, they ain’t getting it.”

Start at Least a Year Out

Ekman and Super and others offer two pieces of advice about jump-starting the process: Start early. Stay in touch.

Some people advise starting the process one or even two years before your 60th birthday. Seminars and websites can be helpful, but the process can be complicated, so they suggest meeting with your state retirement-services officer.

Sgt. 1st Class Marty Phelps has been doing that job for the Maryland Army Guard for 12 years. He is the retirement-points accounting manager for more than 4,800 Guard soldiers, and he processes about 90 retirement applications every year.

Many Air Guard bases have a person assigned to assist with the same task.

“Retired-pay applications should be submitted nine months but not less than 90 days prior to the 60th date of birth to ensure all documents are received and processed correctly,” Phelps says. “This will also help in ensuring that retired pay is received in a timely matter.”

Kelly recalls receiving a packet in the mail on how to proceed with the retirement process 18 months before turning 60. Army HRC no longer mails such packets due to a high rate of returned mail, but the forms are available online. The Air Reserve Personnel Center mails a letter of instructions to Air Guard retirees four months prior to their 60th birthday on how to download and submit the forms.

“I had my retirement points forms readily available, had my 20-year letter, had my DD 214, and I had probably the most important document, the NGB Form 22 which was a summary of my complete military service,” Kelly says. “I didn’t wait until the 11th hour to try and verify that. I submitted the packet about a year out. I actually got my notification letter that I was approved for retired pay six months prior to receiving my first check.”

Furthermore, because Kelly had gone into the Retired Reserve, that pay was based on what lieutenant colonels were earning when he turned 60 as opposed to what they were making when he left the Guard four years earlier.

That, Ekman explains, is the advantage of getting into the Retired Reserve as opposed to getting an outright discharge before venturing into the gray area. There is the chance, albeit slim, of being recalled to duty for those who enter the Retired Reserve. But it would probably be tantamount to World War III for that to happen, he says.

The retirement pay for those discharged is based on their pay at that time. They are eligible for some adjustments, such as cost-of-living allowances. But those in the Retired Reserve will be paid based on the pay tables when they reach 60. It would be as if they had never left.

The retirement-services officers and the states in general “do the best they can with the resources they have available,” Ekman says. That includes counseling their clients about changes in the law, such as the mobilization- based reduced-age retirement program.

Under the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress reduced the age for receipt of retired pay by three months for each 90 days mobilized on federal orders in any fiscal year after Jan. 28, 2008. The law has since been modified to allow aggregates of 90 days over consecutive fiscal years to count after Sept. 30, 2014.

NGAUS, which convinced Congress to create a retirement program for the Guard and Reserve in 1948, was instrumental in winning the mobilization-based early retirement and the recent elimination of the single- fiscal-year requirement.

The Value of Staying in Touch

Still, not everybody follows the recommended procedures for getting their records in order and getting the money that they’ve earned. Ekman cites two scenarios. Some members serve almost all the way to age 60, leaving insufficient time to process the required paperwork before they are eligible for their first check. Then there are those who simply forget or don’t realize they have to apply.

“We get the 70-year-olds who say, ‘Hey, don’t I get a retirement?’” Ekman says. “One of the harsh things that happens is that, yes, they can get a retirement, and we can fix it. But in a worst-case scenario, the statute of limitations comes into play, and if they are more than six years beyond 60, they can get back pay for only six years.”

One good way to avoid these pitfalls is to stay in touch with the people who will be processing the retirement pay. That’s what Super did, even though he completed his career while serving at NGB.

“When I left active duty in ’97,” he says, “I very purposefully contacted my state headquarters [in South Dakota]. I talked to the people in the G1 office who managed aged retired pay and just said ‘Hey, don’t forget about me, because I’m going to be in the gray area for nine years, and I want to make sure that my paperwork is in proper order, that any obstacles th it need to be cleared up can be taken care of before I need my retirement pay to keep body and soul together.’”

Super also “became telephone and email friends” with South Dakota’s retirement-services NCOs and visited state headquarters when he wen: home for vacations. Staying connected paid off, he says.

“By the time I was 59 and a half years old and still working in Washington, I went back to state headquarters. ‘We’ve got you covered’ the retirement NCO assured me. And it all worked like it should,” Super says. “When the time came for that first retirement check to go into my bank account, why, there it was. And it has worked smoothly ever since.”

The system also apparently works for people who don’t really worry about it. At least it did for Ed Rice about 15 years after he finished his career as a tech sergeant in a Nebraska Air Guard public affairs unit in 1993 when he was 45.

Some might say Rice tempted fate in several ways. First, he didn’t seriously consider staying in for 20 years until he had put in about 15 of them. Second, he served in five different units and four different states and three different components. Third, he didn’t get too concerned about his records.

“I never in a million years expected to get to 20,” says Rice who was pursuing his civilian career as a journalist, author and college educator. “I wasn’t keeping any of the sorts of records that you would expect for someone who’s got that as a career goal.”

About the only thing he did with a purpose was to stay in for 21 years to ensure he had 20 good years for retirement.

“This is a testament to how well the military itself keeps track of your records,” says Rice.

Every time I was given my records and transported them to my next duty station, I could see that everything was right there.”

So it was when he took his records to the Maine Air Guard base in Bangor as Rice closed in on his 60th birthday. “They processed everything that I needed,” he says. “The system worked beautifully.”

AT A GLANCE

Documents Required to Apply for Retirement Pay

ARMY NATIONAL GUARD

- DD Form 108 (Application for Retired Pay Benefits)

- DD Form 2656 (Data for Payment of Retired Personnel)

- Completed SF Form 1199A (Direct Deposit Authorization)

- NGB Forms 22 (Record of Service) and 23 (Retirement Points Statement)

- DD Form 214, mobilization orders and orders transferring to Retired Reserves if applying for reduced-age retirement

AIR NATIONAL GUARD

- ARPC Form 83 (Application for Retired Pay)

- DD Form 2656 (Data for Payment of Retired Personnel)

- AF Form 526 (Point Credit Summary)

AT A GLANCE

Monthly Pension Formulas

Monthly pensions for most traditional National Guardsmen are determined by one of two formulas. Both are based on when you first entered the military (not just National Guard or Reserve). If you have 20 good years of service and your initial date of entry is:

Before Sept. 8, 1980:

Divide the number of retirement points by 360. That gives you the years of service (in active-duty years). Multiply that by 0.025 (2.5 percent). Multiply that by the basic monthly active-duty pay for your grade and years of service on the retired-pay effective date (normally your 60th birthday). Round that figure down to the nearest dollar to get the actual monthly retired pay.

On or After Sept. 8, 1980:

Divide the number of retirement points by 360 to get years of service (in active-duty years). Multiply that figure by 0.025 (2.5 percent). Multiply that figure by the average of the 36 highest months of active-duty base pay for your rank. Round that figure down to the nearest dollar to get the actual monthly retired pay. This formula is commonly known as the High-3 retirement plan.

BOB HASKELL is a retired Maine Army National Guard master sergeant and a freela nce journalist in Falmouth, Mass. He can be contact d at magazine@ngaus.org.

Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Leaving+The+Gray+Area/2535387/321720/article.html.

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