Army Officers Will Keep Their Officer Pensions

A group of Army O-3s will finally be paid the pensions they’ve earned. However, their story is also a cautionary example of why you should be saving and investing for financial independence.

Last month the Army announced that this blog helped a few officers keep their pensions.Image of U.S. Army logo |

Well, sure, the press release doesn’t specifically mention It doesn’t mention the New York Times journalist or the Congressional inquiries or the Armed Services Committee discussions either. But that started here through e-mails with servicemembers and spouses just like many of you readers.

In early 2014 the Army conducted an “Officer Separation Board”. (The first lesson learned from the exercise was that they should call them “Officer Retention Boards”.) Several of the selected officers sent me e-mails and “Contact me” queries. Some officers (commissioned from enlisted rank) were told that they’d have to revert to enlisted rank and lose over a third of their pensions. Others were being separated just short of their eligibility for the 15-year early-retirement program. A few were already over 18 years of service but thought they were threatened with early retirement instead of a 20-year pension guaranteed by federal law. I asked a couple of other military bloggers for help (thanks Rob, Ryan, and Kate!) researched the Title 10 U.S. Code that applies to most military retirements, figured out the issues, and wrote the post.

A few months later the statistics from the OSB were leaked along with the slides of a presentation that had been given to the Army Chief of Staff. (The slides keep disappearing from the Army’s websites, so I’ve loaded a PDF copy of the presentation on at this link.) When that post went live, I heard from a few more officers. Along with their financial and career options, we also discussed writing letters to their elected representatives and going to the media.

Shortly after that, the media got interested: Dave Philipps of the NYT contacted me to interview the officers. I e-mailed several introductions and he wrote his article. Some of the officers had already written their elected representatives, and Dave’s article inspired a few more Congressional inquiries. A month later the Army announced that officers would keep their officer pensions and that others would be extended to retirement eligibility. Ironically Mr. Philipps’ followup article ran in the NYT’s “Politics” section.

It’s nice to see the Army (finally) do the right thing. I wonder, though, if it would have happened without those officers asking me to write about it. As nice as it is to see the good guys win one, I just wish we didn’t have to keep telling the authorities who their good guys are.

By the way, we get retirement and other financial questions here every week. When we help someone figure out their entitlements (or learn how to pursue them) then we share the information here for everyone’s benefit. I’ve been retired for over 12 years and I’ve finally had the time to read all of those manuals and instructions that I wish I’d read on active duty. If we can’t figure out the answer to your question, we know who to ask.

After four years of writing, I’ve developed a few media contacts. (Thanks again, Mr. Philipps!) If a spotlight needs to be directed toward a problem, we’re happy to get the media’s attention.

Please help us educate more servicemembers, veterans, and families: share this site with your friends! You can subscribe to the posts through an RSS feed, follow the site on Facebook and Twitter, or send your question through the anonymous and private “Contact me” link. If you’re still concerned about privacy then e-mail me: NordsNords at Gmail. Your questions help me learn more about the answers, and together we can help everyone reach their financial independence.

Related articles:
What Law Allows An Officer To Be Retired On Enlisted Pay?
Leaked:  Statistics From The Army Officer Separation Board

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. I need your help!

    We all know that the Army is downsizing and using any means available to include promotion boards. Officers are being hit hardest. I am an active duty Army Officer with prior enlisted time. After not making the promotion list for the second time, I received my Mandatory Retirement Notification from HRC with a Mandatory Retirement Date (MRD) of 31 Dec 15.

    Like those Captains and Majors that were boarded against their peers in a reduction in force board I was boarded against my peers in a promotion board. I feel I am not very marketable against many peers and an easy target because of the following.

    I will be 21 days shy of my 23rd year of Active Army Service on my MRD. 19 Enlisted with the highest grade of Staff Sergeant (E-6) and almost 4 years as an Officer. Let me briefly explain. I got commissioned through a recruiting program called the Army Enlisted Commissioning Program (AECP). I applied at 14 years of service when I was an E-6. I was notified of acceptance but placed on a Deferment Status because of a priority Military Transition Team (MiTT) assignment that I would not be released from. At 15 years of service, I deployed on that MiTT assignment. I returned, 16 years enlisted service, and on a conditional acceptance, I still had 2 classes to complete before I could start the last 2 years of the BSN Nursing School I had chosen. At 17 years of service I finally started Nursing School (2 years), this takes me to 19 years of service. Upon graduating and passing the National Nursing Board Test, I commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps. At almost 46 years old with this many years of service, I feel may be some of the reason for me being a non-select. I do not feel I have longevity left as a soldier, and the board probably recognized that also.

    Unfortunately, US Code, Title 10 states (summarized) that to retire as an Officer the Officer must have at least 10 years of Commission Officer Time. The 10 years is allowed to be reduced by the Secretary of the Army to no less than 8 years, which has been done. It also states that promotion non-select for the second time be retired/separated within months of the board president approval of the list. If they do not meet the required Officer Service time, and eligible, they can retire at their highest enlisted rank. I am almost convinced that this US Code law was written during a period that the US was not engaged in major conflicts.

    Like the others, this is a slap in the face. The concern is how much it affects my retirement pay. I have dedicated myself to the Army and our Country. I stepped up when the Army was heavily recruiting Army Nurses. Unfortunately, this led me to not continue my enlisted career and pursuit of promotion within the enlisted rank (By this time I knew I was a career soldier). I have deployed in time of war. I have been attacked by the enemy. The sacrifices I have made especially abandoning my family for 3 separate deployments. I was in Afghanistan with the initial wave of Army troops and Iraq with the initial wave as well. Initial wave equals nothing very established; a true war time soldier (MRE’s and no baths for days sometimes up to 3 weeks). I have already mentioned the MiTT deployment for which I was embedded along with 11 other soldiers (12 man MiTT) into and Iraqi force (Battalion level in my case) with the priority mission being to train them as the US military was gearing up for transfer of the war mission with hope of an established and functioning force and government. This is what I get. Disheartening!
    I ask for your help in any way you may know.

    Much appreciated, Rodney

    • Rodney, you’ve certainly researched the issue (thank you!). I see you’ve also found the other posts which discuss the parameters.

      It’s difficult to speculate on the reasons for non-promote. It could be age or errors/omissions in a record. It could also have little to do with you and everything to do with downsizing issues and end strength requirements.

      If you haven’t already done so, your first step should be to sit down with a JAG to discuss the federal law (with these blog comments) and whether you have any other options. You and the JAG could craft a waiver request to permit you to continue on active duty to reach eight years’ commissioned service due to the critical skills you’re providing in your billet. The point of the request is to force HRC to issue a formal letter response to your waiver request, not to let them discourage you from submitting the request. You want a written response, not just a verbal “We can’t do that”.

      You could also contact your elected representatives, because several senators were involved with last year’s OSBs. That tactic might not be popular with HRC or your chain of command, but again you have nothing to lose from starting a Congressional inquiry. Regardless of when or why the “10 years commissioned service” law was passed, only Congress can change it.

      I’m not going to hold out false hope. Even if your commission could somehow be backdated to your initial AECP acceptance, you’d still have less than 10 years of commissioned service. Perhaps the best you could hope for would be that your situation calls attention to the need to change the law.

      Even if you’re forced into retirement at an enlisted rank, the military may feel that you’ll eventually be “made whole” at the 30-year point. You and the JAG should take a look at 10 U.S. Code § 3964. Here’s the text:
      Higher grade after 30 years of service: warrant officers and enlisted members
      (a) Each retired member of the Army covered by subsection (b) who is retired with less than 30 years of active service is entitled, when his active service plus his service on the retired list totals 30 years, to be advanced on the retired list to the highest grade in which he served on active duty satisfactorily (or, in the case of a member of the National Guard, in which he served on full-time duty satisfactorily), as determined by the Secretary of the Army.

      I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t understand whether Section 3964 means that your retirement pay is also recomputed. Your JAG may be able to find the applicable rule in the DoD Financial Management Regulation manual for military retirements:
      Table 1-2 on page 1-33 lists the rules for mandatory retirements, and Rule 6 probably applies to your situation. It doesn’t advise whether your retirement pay is also recomputed when you reach the 30-year point. However section 090401 on page 9-5 says:
      Reduction In Pay Due To Advancement
      There is no absolute requirement that a member of the Armed Forces be advanced on the
      retired list. If advancement and recomputation results in a reduction of retired pay for the member
      and is based solely on administrative determination, then, prior to the advancement, the member
      should be consulted by the military service and advised that the member’s retired pay would be
      reduced if advanced.
      A. Enlisted Member. If an enlisted member is, in fact, advanced on the retired
      list, then retired pay must be recomputed, even though a reduction of retired pay would result.

      To my unqualified interpretation of the FMR, it seems pretty clear that at the 30-year point you could apply to be advanced to O-2 on the retired list– and then you could apply to have your pension recalculated at the O-2 pay scale instead of the E-6 pay scale.

      Your former High-Three pay base derived from E-6>22 ($3,724.20) would be switched for a High-Three pay base of O-2E>2 ($5,418.00). Keep in mind that those columns are just the starting points and not the actual dollar amounts. You’d have to calculate the average of the highest 36 months of pay at those ranks. DFAS can help you with the calculation.

      Finally, Section 090302 on page 9-4 says you’ll also need an Army determination that you served satisfactorily in your O-2 paygrade. That appears to be handled by an Army Grade Determination Review Board, and it’s up to you and the JAG to ensure that happens during the next few months. You definitely want to get this done while you’re on active duty, because it’ll take months to make it happen after you’re retired.

      I know this doesn’t make the situation right, but I hope it helps. Please let me know how it turns out.

  2. If you are over twenty two years FAS and a total of almost thirty years can they still QMP you ?

    • Technically, anyone at the end of their enlistment contract can be turned down for re-enlistment. Officers can also be separated for failing to attain promotion or qualification requirements. And as we’ve seen during the drawdown, anyone with less than 18 years of service can be separated as part of a reduction in force.

      However once a servicemember reaches 18 years of service they’re protected by federal law to remain on active duty until they’re eligible to apply for retirement.

      In the case you’re asking about, that servicemember would apply for retirement.

  3. I’m guessing a rogue action/assignment officer put it out there despite the fact it is classified FOUO. I have no issues with the rest of the brief except protecting the identities of the four folks on page 4.

  4. The brief keeps disappearing from Army sites because it contains personal information (names, DA photos etc.) of those affected and the brief was never intended to be leaked. The stats/information are useful for understanding how the process occurred, but you may want to consider redacting the brief to safeguard the privacy of fellow service members.

    Good work advocating for those other folks. Glad to see they will will receive the benefits and retirement compensation they are entitled to.

    • Dave, I’d be happy to replace this brief with a better version. When the Army posts a brief that’s free of personal information, math errors, and grammar errors, then I’ll update this edition. If they’re just trying to keep quashing the current version then I think they could make better use of their time & effort.

      The current brief (with all of its flaws) offers valuable insights into the thought process of the action officers and supervisors who prepared it. These are presumably the same people who thought it was appropriate to force officers to retire on an enlisted pension even when the federal law states that it only applies for voluntary retirements.

      If those HRC procedures include preparing briefs that flout personal information while “never intending for it to be leaked” then maybe the spotlight on these practices can produce behavioral change at HRC as well.

  5. Reply
    Rob @ The Military Financial Planner January 8, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    Nords, I know you’re too humble to take enough credit here, but you done good. You deserve a chance to take a victory lap. Thanks for the mention, but you’re the one that got things noticed.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?