Retirement Services Office Embraces the Electronic Information Age

By Bill Hursh, Army Retirement Services Office

By November 14, 2000, the 45th anniversary of the Army Retirement Services Office (RSO), the missions and policies associated with today’s Army RSO in program were well established. In the previous 15 years there were changes to retirement benefits that were mostly positive in nature. However, the period from 1985 to 2000 found the Army Retirement Services Office (RSO) confronting the challenge of the “electronic information age” and the need to leverage the computer to best serve the Army’s retiring Soldiers, Retired Soldiers, Families and Survivors.

When the Army first established the RSO program on November 14, 1955, the only methods for the Army RSO to provide counseling, information, or assistance was through face to face counseling, mail, telephone, or the Army Bulletin for Retired Soldiers, now called the “Army Echoes”. In the July to September 1995 edition of the “Army Echoes,” Retired Soldiers were informed that Army RSO had was now on the “Information Superhighway” with capability to answer the retirement questions of Soldiers, Retired Soldiers, and their Families on-line through a message board. In the October to December 1995 edition of “Army Echoes”, Army RSO announced that the previous RSO folder available on the Army’s Homepage had been replaced with an Army RSO Homepage that included an installation RSO contact directory, information papers, “Army Echoes” articles, frequently asked questions, and other information pertinent to retiring Soldiers, Retired Soldiers, and their Families. This issue of “Army Echoes” also had the first listing of 16 websites of interest to Retired Soldiers to include TRICARE, VA, Social Security, US Army, and Retirement Services. Finally, in the spring of 2000 “Army Echoes”, Retired Soldiers were informed they could view “Army Echoes” on-line with archived copies available back to 1998.

As Army RSO was moving moved into the electronic information age, there were changes and improvements to existing military retirement benefits. TRICARE was enacted and developed in this period to provide improved medical benefits for Retired Soldiers, their Families, and Survivors. A Retiree Dental Plan and a Pharmacy Mail Order Program were also enacted and made available to Retired Soldiers, their Families, and Survivors. The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) had new provisions enacted to enhance SBP and protect families. A paid up SBP provision was enacted although the effective date was not until October 1, 2008. Also Soldiers who elected SBP coverage now had a one year window between the second and third anniversary following retirement to terminate SBP. To protect retiring Soldier’s Families, the law required automatic full SBP coverage for dependents if a Soldier failed to make an SBP election at retirement. The SBP statute was changed to protect the Soldier’s spouse at the initial SBP election by requiring the spouse’s concurrence if the Soldier elected less than the full spouse SBP coverage allowable by law.

Once again, in the period 1985 to 2000, the Army’s senior leadership recognized the importance of the Retired Soldier to the Army. Senior leaders continued to reach out to Retired Soldiers to be the Army’s ambassadors to tell America’s communities the Army’s story. Retired Soldiers were also asked to help the Army as recruiters by telling America’s youth the value of serving the nation as a Soldier. During this period the Army Family Action Plan declared retirement the top military benefit.