The Army Chief of Staff's Retiree Council closed its 44th meeting with a report to the Chief of Staff, Army (CSA), identifying health care and communications with and education of retirees as the council's primary concerns.
The CSA Retiree Council, cochaired by Lt. Gen. John A. Dubia, U.S. Army retired, and SMA Robert E. Hall, U.S. Army retired, is made up of 14 members-seven retired officers and seven retired enlisted soldiers. Prospective members are nominated by their installation retiree councils and approved by the CSA. At its annual meeting, the council reviews issues forwarded by installation councils and determines which should be reported to the CSA and which to address at the installation level. Of the 39 issues submitted this year, 14 concerned health care.
The council also sought support for the efforts to take care of surviving spouses by eliminating the Social Security offset to survivor benefit plan (SBP) benefits and eliminating the dependency and indemnity compensation offset to SBP, and to support retirees who have paid SBP premiums for 30 years or more by accelerating the date for the paid-up provision, of SBP from 2008 to 2004.
The council also supported concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation; receipt of reserve retired pay before age 60 based on the number of years of service beyond 20; direct deposit of retired and annuity pay to foreign banks; and authorization of retirees to purchase all items sold in military clothing sales stores.
The council stated that TRlCARE for Life (TFL) and TRICARE Senior Pharmacy have met many beneficiaries' expectations, but that other improvements still need to be made. They added that the DoD needs to develop and disseminate !simple, clear instructions so that retirees and families can make informed health-care decisions.
The council's suggestions include raising TRICARE reimbursement levels; extending the voluntary retiree dental insurance option to retirees living outside the continental United States; remaining engaged in efforts to notifv TEL-elisible beneficiaries about the waiving of late enrollment fees for Medicare Part B; and continuing to support collaborative efforts between DoD and Veterans Administration (VA) health care departments.
The council's communications goals center on providing retirees, families and surviving spouses with accurate and up-to-date information through a variety of media. One communications objective is continuing to fund three annual issues of Army Echoes, the Army's bulletin for retirees and the principal Army publication that keeps retirees and survivors informed, and to return to publishing four times a year if savings realized from electronic distribution are sufficient.
The other objective is using a variety of media-Internet, videotape and CD-ROM-to help installation retirement services officers (RSOs) serve retirees and surviving spouses in the wide areas for which they are responsible. This multimedia effort would also be aimed at educating active duty soldiers and families about retirement as well as those making career decisions. This effort also includes enhancing the professional training programs for commanders and senior noncommissioned officers, especially those attending installation command and management courses.
The council briefed the CSA on these issues. The cochairmen of the council will continue to meet periodically with the CSA during the year to discuss the progress that has been made.
The Army office that coordinates council activities, including overseeing the nomination of new members and arranging the annual meeting, is the Army Retirement Services Office, part of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-I. Army retirement services serves soldiers, retirees and families at the headquarters level. Installation retirement services officers support soldiers, retirees and families in their areas of responsibility.
Headquarters and installation retirement services work in partnership with the council. Acknowledging the need to continue to improve communications and interaction between the Army and its soldiers and retirees, Army retirement services launched the Army benefits tool (ABT) in September 2003. ABT is an online tool, a place where soldiers, retirees and families can go to research their benefits at any point in the soldier life cycle, from enlistment to retirement and beyond. Each of ABT's life-cycle sections contains links to benefit-related web sites of agencies such as TRICARE, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Thousands of soldiers, retirees and family members visit ABT every day at https://www.us.army.mil in the "Self-Service" section under "My Benefits."
Soldiers, retirees and family members have another online source for benefits information, the Army retirement services homepage at http://www.armygl.army.mil/ retire. The site features pre- and postretirement sections to give those preparing for retirement and those already retired easy access to the information they need. Other components of the site include a special section covering the CSA Retiree Council and another containing issues of Army Echoes. One section of the homepage visited frequently by soldiers, retirees and family members is the retirement services officer (RSO) listing. RSOs implement the Army retirement services program at the installation. They help soldiers and families prepare for retirement and continue to support them after retirement through installation retiree newsletters, homepages, retiree appreciation days and installation retiree councils.
Every soldier, retiree and family member is served by an RSO. Most RSOs are based at Army installations. Since many retirees live miles away from an Army installation, this means that some KSOs cover very large areas.
For example, the RSO at Fort McCoy, Wis., serves soldiers, retirees and families in Wisconsin, California, Nevada, Minnesota, Iowa and part of Illinois.
Like other Army installation offices, many RSOs have taken part in A-76 studies in which the government, using a "most efficient organization" model, competes against private companies to determine whether government or contractors should perform the retirement-related tasks. As a result, some RSOs are civil servants and others are contractors. Most have a variety of responsibilities in addition to retirement-related duties, such as serving as transition officers and casualty assistance officers. The changing status of RSOs has not changed their importance to soldiers, retirees and families.
The Army retirement services program, the CSA Retiree Council and installation RSOs are vital to soldiers, retirees and families. The 20 to 30 years a soldier and family devote to Army service are often followed by 30 or more years as retirees and families, continuing to support and serve the Army in spirit and deed. The Army owes, to those who have given and keep on giving so much, the best retirement services program possible.
By Lt. Gen. John A. Dubia
U.S. Army retired
SMA Robert E. Hall
U.S. Army retired
Cochairmen, CSA Retiree Council
LT. GEN. JOHN A. DUBlA, USA Ret., cochairman, CSA Retiree Council, was director of the Army Staff, former commanding general of the U.S. Army Field Artillery Center and commandant of the field Artillery School. His 14 years of troop assignments included combat in Vietnam. He held key staff positions with troops at the battalion, brigade and division levels. Gen. Dubia's assignments included assistant professor of military science at the University of South Dakota, and executive officer to the commander in chief, U.S. Army Europe. He is now vice president for operations at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
SMA ROBERT E. HALL, USA Ret., cochairman, CSA Retiree Council, was the llth Sergeant Major of the Army. SMA Hall entered the Army in February 1968 and attended basic training at Fort Bragg, N.C., and advanced individual training at Fort Bliss, Texas. A graduate of Park College, Parkville, Mo., he held a variety of important positions culminating in his final active duty assignment as the Sergeant Major of the Army. Before that, he held the senior enlisted position as command sergeant major of the United States Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, FIa. Other assignments as command sergeant major were: the 1st Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, Fort Stewart, Ga.; commandant, 24th Infantry Division Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Fort Stewart; and the 24th Division Artillery, Saudi Arabia and Iraq; the 2nd Infantry Division, Korea; and First U.S. Army, Fort Meade, Md. Currently, SMA Hall is a consultant for a number of businesses on military-related quality of life and training issues for servicemen and women. He also serves as a board member on three boards of directors.…