When Lt. Cmdr. Randy Sowinski sent his retirement package to Navy Personnel Command in Tennessee in September, the reserve intelligence officer was about six months shy of turning 60.
Then April came. He celebrated his birthday, but his pension check never arrived at his Royal Oak, Michigan home.
That’s because his file was still sitting in Millington, the victim of a backlog that had surged to about 500 retirement applications before dwindling to nearly 300 now, Navy officials say.
“How many veterans need this money? I have a job,” Sowinski, a supply chain operations supervisor, told Navy Times. “How many don’t, that were counting on this for rent, food on a table or whatever?”
“I started out in my career in Surface Warfare. When a ship runs aground, or more recently as we have seen crashes into another one, a CO gets booted. That is the way it is. At NPC, their job is to take care of sailors. When they don’t as in here it should be no damned different.”
Millington officials blamed the backlog on a series of unfortunate circumstances they began to notice earlier in the year.
There was a hike in the volume of packets as Baby Boom reservists who hadn’t drilled in two decades began to reach retirement age, a problem that was exacerbated by “a coincidental period of turnover of key personal,” according to Capt. Kevin Boardman, the command’s director for reserve retirement administration.
“We acknowledge the challenges and frustrations our constituents have faced as they wait for their retirement applications to be processed,” he said in a written statement emailed to Navy Times.
Although the Navy has made rapid advances on the seas and ashore with cutting edge technology, Boardman says processing retirement applications remains a “predominately manual and very labor intensive” chore.
Files often lack supporting documents and can be riddled with paperwork errors that need to be fixed before a sailor can start drawing retirement pay.
To slash the glut in unprocessed applications, Boardman said that Navy Personnel Command reallocated workers inside his office, improved file tracking, increased communications with retirees and even activated reservists to help tame the backlog.
Innovative technology is on the way and a "tiered customer service model” to field retirees' questions and concerns also will speed future processing, he said.
But for now Boardman urges reservists to submit their applications nine to 12 months before their effective retirement date.