News Releases

In letter to Army Secretary McHugh, Senators call for immediate reversal of policy forcing officers to retire at highest enlisted rank 

Current policy results in significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more

U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Army Secretary John McHugh over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers and are being forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB). This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, for some as much as $1,000 per month or more, or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.   

“These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives… We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation.”

Under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  During the “Grow the Army” effort the Army dramatically increased the number of officers commissioned via its Officer Candidate School (OCS).  The Army expanded to a post 9-11 peak of 570,000 soldiers in 2010 and is currently executing an aggressive end strength reduction designed to shrink the Army to 450,000 soldiers.  Many of those OCS graduates are now being forced to retire through the E-SERB process as the Army shrinks.  Officers with more than 18 years active service are screened by E-SERB and those selected will be forced to retire on the first day of the month following the month they reach 20 years of service. These former non-commissioned officers stepped up and volunteered for OCS at a time the Army badly needed officers and served honorably for between 6 and 7 years.  Now, many are being retired at enlisted ranks they have not held in years.  This is particularly disturbing because had they ignored the Army’s call for officers most would have been promoted at least once more and been eligible to retire at a higher enlisted rank.

Senators Murray and Isakson were joined in sending the letter by: Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Bernard Sanders (D-VT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). 

Read a one-page summary of the issue here.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

November 19, 2014

The Honorable John McHugh
Secretary of the Army
101 Army Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-0101

Dear Secretary McHugh: 

We write to express our grave concern over the Army’s treatment of a significant number of Army captains and majors who are former non-commissioned officers.   These former non-commissioned officers answered the Army’s call for volunteers to attend Officer Candidate School as the Army expanded its officer corps to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Now, despite having served for years as commissioned officers and rising through the ranks to become captains and majors, these dedicated soldiers will soon be forced to retire at their highest previous enlisted rank.  This will result in a significant decrease in lifetime retirement benefits for the impacted soldiers, approximately $1,000 per month or just over $1 million over a 40 year retirement in the case of a captain forced to retire as a sergeant first class.  This is simply unacceptable.  

These former non-commissioned officers have been placed in this untenable position as a result of the Army’s use of Enhanced-Selective Early Retirement Boards (E-SERB).  Officers selected by the boards are forced to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service. Unfortunately, under current law a soldier must serve at least 8 years of active service as a commissioned officer in order to retire as a commissioned officer.  Soldiers who serve 20 years total, but less than 8 years as commissioned officers are retired at their highest enlisted rank.  While this requirement makes sense in the case of soldiers who choose to retire, are passed over for multiple promotions, or are forced to retire due to misconduct, none of those cases applies to the soldiers in question.  On the contrary, Army Human Resources Command has explicitly acknowledged that E-SERB will separate fully qualified officers “who have rendered quality service to the nation.”  To demote these soldiers in retirement is an injustice that devalues their service and will materially disadvantage them and their families for the rest of their lives.

Rather than forcing these officers to retire as soon as they reach 20 years of service, the Army could modify its E-SERB policy to delay the mandatory retirement date of affected soldiers until the first month after they become eligible to retire as commissioned officers.  For many of the affected soldiers this would extend their time in service by only a few months.  We strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to rectify this situation in order to allow these soldiers to retire at the rank they have earned and appropriately honor their service to our nation.

Sincerely,                                                          

Patty Murray
United States Senator    

Johnny Isakson
United States Senator