Tactical

Benefits miscalculations disrupt retirement for some ROTC grads

Retirement is a hallowed milestone in a soldier’s career. For some ROTC graduates, the moment has been sullied by benefits miscalculations that went uncorrected in their records for years — until they had one foot out the door.

By July 2008, Lt. Col. Joyner Livingston was ready to move on from the military. He was halfway through his second year in the Army Reserve — the sixth and final year of his ROTC service obligation. After a deployment to Iraq, he welcomed a return to civilian life.

But then he looked at his personnel file. The Army had logged his years as a cadet as years in service, awarding him almost four years’ worth of retirement points, which are used to calculate pensions for reservists. Each point represents one day’s worth of service, and a Reserve member’s retired pay (which begins at age 60 in most cases) is based on their average annual points total, their highest pay grade and their qualifying years in service.

However, a federal statute created in 1964 prohibits the Army from crediting time spent in ROTC towards time in service calculations, unless the cadet is simultaneously serving in the Reserve.

“I said ‘Hey, I don’t think I should get points for being in ROTC,’” Livingston recalled telling a human resources official in his unit at the time. “‘I wasn’t in the reserves. I wasn’t active-duty. I wasn’t Green to Gold. I wasn’t any of those things.’”

The HR officer insisted his record was correct, he remembered. Suddenly, his career calculus changed. Counting his time in school as time in service meant he was roughly halfway to the 20-year service mark, after which retired soldiers qualify for generous Army benefits.

“I’m over the hump,” he remembered thinking. “I made the decision to go ahead and stay in.”

Livingston has served in the Reserve since. His record went unchanged for 15 years. Human resources officials continued to validate his file during annual records reviews. Livingston received his 20-year retirement letter in February 2021. A copy of his official retirement plan statement dated to March 2023, shared with Army Times, indicates he’d clocked in almost four years of service time and roughly 1,500 points between 2000, the year he started ROTC, and November 2003, when he received his commission.

“Personnel records management has always involved a margin of human error,” Lt. Col. Allie Scott, a public affairs office for Human Resources Command (HRC), wrote to Army Times in response to questions about errors in retirement files. “Records management is a responsibility of the individual soldier and unit activities.”

Now, Livingston is left bearing the brunt of a mistake that, he feels, he did all he could to remedy. Livingston said that in August, an official from HRC called him and said that the Army was going to take back the points he’d been erroneously awarded while in ROTC. By Livingston’s estimate, that would slash his retirement pay by almost a third, he said. He protested the decision, pushing his complaint up the HRC ladder, but officials, citing Army Reserve statutes reiterating the 1964 law, dismissed his appeal.

“I’ve missed birthdays of my children [because of Reserve duties]. I’ve missed baseball games,” Livingston said. “For me, given the points calculation that the Army originally gave me, and the time and service that the Army originally told me I had, it was worth it.”

When asked whether the Army would delay retirement and garnish benefits for soldiers impacted by records miscalculations, or require soldiers with 20-year letters to serve more time, Scott said: “No, HRC will continue to work with each individual to overcommunicate and to find available solutions that are least disruptive to the current situation.”

The exact cause and scope of the miscalculations are unclear. The Army could not offer a specific or estimated number of impacted soldiers when asked by Army Times.

“Those details are being researched,” Scott said. “However, many factors may affect an individual’s retirement point calculation, including ROTC or service academy time, transfers between components, and missing retirement points earned while in other armed services.”

Despite the law, Livingston’s record “is not the only one that reflected incorrect data for service as an ROTC Cadet,” according to a September email he shared with Army Times from an HRC official once responsible for supervising points calculations. The official added that “many who served at West Point” had their records botched.

Another soldier — who wished to remain anonymous because he is still serving and not authorized to speak to the media — described undergoing a similar ordeal.

He joined ROTC in 2001, went on active duty in 2006, and transferred to the Army Reserve in 2014. During his first records review, an official in his unit noted that he’d accumulated points and time in service while in school. He was surprised, so he called HRC to confirm.

“They said, ‘Oh, you signed a contract post-9/11. Those four years worth of points count,’” he recalled, adding “I didn’t think anything of it.”

Figuring out which ROTC graduates had received points during school became a kind of game among soldiers in his unit.

“I remember we would compare points worksheets, it was like a 50/50 split,” he said. “Some had the points on there, some didn’t.”

Four years later, during another review, an official in his unit flagged the ROTC points as an error. She called HRC on his behalf, and, he says, officials once again verified his record.

Then, during a Reserve drill last year, as he was expecting his 20-year letter, he received a different message.

“I got an email that morning from HRC being like, ‘We’re taking these four years worth of points away,” he said. “’You’re going back to 16 years.’”

The HRC official that handled Livingston’s appeal blamed the glitches on the Reserve’s “legacy” personnel management system, which struggled to intake data from a separate active-duty database when soldiers transitioned between components, according to emails from the official shared with Army Times. HRC supposedly attempted to resolve the issue “for years,” but to little avail, according to the email the official sent Livingston. How exactly they attempted to do so is unclear.

The Army’s transition to a centralized human resources database last fall has revealed years-old record errors across numerous programs. Cadet Command, responsible for managing ROTC, said the introduction of the Army’s Integrated Personnel and Pay System (IPPS-A) revealed that potentially thousands of graduates from the Green to Gold Active Duty Option program might have been mistakenly awarded time in service and pay raises.

Scott says the new system has little to do with the discovery of broader ROTC errors.

“This is not a product of IPPS-A,” she said in a statement to Army Times. “Discrepancies routinely occur in finalizing individual personnel records and once identified we take appropriate action.”

Jaime Moore-Carrillo is an editorial fellow for Military Times and Defense News. A Boston native, Jaime graduated with degrees in international affairs, history, and Arabic from Georgetown University, where he served as a senior editor for the school’s student-run paper, The Hoya.

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