By Bill Hursh, Army Retirement Services Office
On November 14, 1985, the Army Retirement Services Office celebrated the program’s 30th anniversary. In the preceding 15 years, there were significant improvements to retirement benefits and the Retirement Services Program.
In January 1972, the Retired Army Bulletin, the predecessor to the current Army Echoes, announced to Retired Soldiers the formation of the Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA) Retiree Councils. Initially there were separate enlisted and officer CSA Retire Councils. At the same time a change to Army regulation allowed installation commanders to establish local installation volunteer Retiree councils. The CSA and local installation Retiree Councils provided Retired Soldiers a voice for their concerns with both the installation as well as the senior Army leadership. The first Meeting of the CSA Retiree Councils was on June 5-9, 1972 and two of the major issues reported out were improvements to health care and survivor benefits, which continue to be important issues for Retired Soldiers today.
On September 21, 1972 the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) became law. SBP was enacted by Congress to provide military Retirees a government subsidized survivor benefit with cost of living increases to encourage military Retiree participation. On October 1, 1978, Congress enacted Reserve Component SBP (RCSBP. RCSBP allowed Reserve Soldiers who qualified for future retired pay but died prior to receipt of retired pay at age 60 to provide a benefit to their survivors. The Army Retirement Services Office now had the mission to provide retiring Soldiers counseling on Survivor Benefits and Retired Soldiers information and assistance on their SBP and RCSBP elections.
During this period, Congress enacted a series of laws known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) that defined former spouses’ legal rights to military benefits. USFSPA included former spouses’ legal right to military benefits such as medical, commissary, post-exchange, and MWR facilities. Under the provisions of USFSPA, state courts could consider retired pay and SBP or RCSBP as marital property in a divorce and award a portion to the former spouse based on that State’s laws. The Army Retirement Services Office developed materials and provided counseling to assist retiring Soldiers, Retired Soldiers, and former spouses with understanding the implications of the USFSPA.
One thing that remained constant in the second fifteen years of the Retirement Services Program was the Army’s senior leadership recognizing 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 engage America’s youth on serving the nation as a Soldier in the new all-volunteer Army. In 1984, the Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army proclaimed that Retired Soldiers and their Families are an integral part of the Total Army.