Retired Soldier Council: 'Army must not break trust' with retirees

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Army Chief of Staff’s Retired Soldier Council convened at the Pentagon from April 20-24 to review issues of concern to the retired community and advise the Army chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.

During the council’s meeting, members discussed current and proposed Department of Defense policies that affect the retired community with 15 senior DoD officials.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace, USA, Ret., and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, USA, Ret., the council’s co-chairmen, discussed the members’ key proposals and concerns with Odierno.

They also provided written recommendations for addressing 30 Army or DoD-level issues affecting the retired community that were nominated by installation retiree councils.

Lovelace and Preston told Odierno that the retired community’s major concern is that the "Army not break trust with [retirees]."

They also thanked Odierno for his strong support of the council, saying, "As part of the Army team, the retired community stands ready to support and disseminate your message. We will continue to do our part in telling the Army story."

In addition, they recognized Odierno for his support in retaining the health care benefits the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommended to cut.

In its report to Odierno, the council acknowledged that DoD faces significant challenges due to declining budgets, but wrote: "Even small increases in TRICARE fees have a significant impact on the retired soldier . . . especially retired staff sergeants, sergeants first class and master sergeants."

Council members commended Odierno on the Army’s improvement in communicating with the retired community over the last year.

Cited were recent improvements on the Soldier for Life website (http://soldierforlife.army.mil/retirement), including the new Army White Pages and the Army Echoes Blog.

They also noted the addition of Linked In to the Soldier for Life social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Council members said this is welcomed by the retired community that desires "to remain informed and engaged with America’s Army … their Army."

The council’s final report included recommendations for addressing 10 issues involving health care, eight related to benefits, and 12 concerning retirement services or communications.

The report said, "[Retired soldiers’] most significant issues focus on the loss of their deferred compensation (earned benefits), which decreases their purchasing power."

The issues in the report focus on increased health care costs, access to health care services, and the Army’s ability to communicate effectively with retired soldiers and their families.

Members of the Retired Soldier Council serve on Army installation or Army service component command councils. These councils nominate members to represent all retired soldiers and surviving spouses worldwide on the Army council.

The co-chairmen select nominees each year to fill vacancies on the 14-member council. Nominees approved by the chief of staff serve four-year terms and are recalled to active duty annually for the week-long meeting.

This year, council represented the views of 939,000 retired soldiers and 248,000 surviving spouses.

Name change

The council is now called Army Retired Soldier Council. It’s a small change, but words matter.

"We’re really retired soldiers, not retirees," said Preston.

Adding, "If you think about it, we’ve been soldiers all of our adult lives. The only difference is that we’re now serving in a different role. We still support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. We can still be recalled to active duty, and many hundreds have been called over the last 13-plus years of war.

"Our role now is to tell our Army stories – to connect America with its Army, where we live. To influence young people to serve in the military as we did. We’re still soldiers."

(Editor’s note: These articles are based on stories by Mark Overberg, deputy chief, Army Retirement Services.)