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Army Plans to Boot Retirees and Surviving Family Members from Secure Online System

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To save money, the Army will remove thousands of retirees and surviving family members from an online service where they can access all their Army records.

The Army plans to remove surviving family members and retirees from a secure online service that provides family access to medical records, pay stubs and other benefits all in one location. Credit: AP

Morally speaking, if you make a promise to someone that if they perform a task they will receive a benefit, and then after the task is performed satisfactorily you renege on your promise, are you wrong and then obligated to make good on your promise? Most of us would say, “Yes, of course, you have to make good on your promise!” Not so, apparently, if you are the federal government or Army information office.

In the September - December 2013 issue of "ECHOES," the official Army newsletter for retired soldiers, surviving spouses and families, it was announced that the Army plans to close Army Knowledge Online accounts for us by March 31, 2014.

I believe this will place an undue hardship on me and my fellow retirees, surviving spouses and family members and will cost us time, effort and security. The Army Chief Information Officer website lists the closest thing for a reason for the change:

The Army is currently modernizing the AKO infrastructure and services to become more interoperable across DOD [Department of Defense] to lower cost and to improve efficiency and security.

Except for those who sacrificed to make it all possible, their surviving spouses and family members.

Screenshot of the Army Knowledge Online website.

This smacks of yet another nail in the coffin of traditional compensation for those who serve and sacrifice. Recent attacks on veterans’ benefits and pay, such as Tricare health cost increases and pay raise caps confirm the trend. Military base closures, sought by the Obama administration would make it more difficult than it already is for veterans, their families and survivors to receive necessary medical care.

I have had an Army Knowledge Online account since the late 1990’s when it was established. And I've used the site ever since. When I retired for the U.S. Army Reserve as a "gray area retiree” (eligible for retired pay at age 60, but vulnerable to being recalled to active duty before then) in December 2008, Army Knowledge Online became my one-stop shop for all things to do with my service. That's because the site is state-of-the-art and secure, I can gain quick, easy and safe access to my permanent Army records; Defense Accounting System for pay issues; Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System for dependent documentation; Tricare for medical issues; secure email; retirement benefits, and dozens of other military related information links and websites.

I had always considered access to Army Knowledge Online a “given” as a member of the Army family; part of the “promise” of benefit for my service, but now it feels like this old soldier is being kicked out onto the street. I served 22 honorable years in the National Guard and Army Reserve, starting out as a Private First Class; eventually becoming an officer and then retiring as a major. I did not resign my commission, nor did I obtain a discharge.

I bought into the idea that if I became a "gray area retiree" that I would enhance my eventual retired pay while at the same time making myself available should the Army require my services again. Needless to say, after reading about Army plans to disenfranchise me, without explanation, I am feeling a less than a soldier who wrote a blank check to my superiors and to the American People for my life, personal safety, comfort and livelihood.

The Army plans to remove surviving family members and retirees from a secure online service that provides family access to medical records, pay stubs and other benefits all in one location. Credit: AP 

Over the years I have seen Army Knowledge Online grow and change, including improvements in scope and security. Its importance to retirees cannot be overstated. I used it several times a day during my active service days, and use it daily now as a means to stay connected to the service, former colleagues, and to my benefits and records. The site has been expanded, refined and has kept up with the times, reflecting new and better ways to serve soldiers and help soldiers serve themselves.

The same newsletter that announced retirees could no longer use the site after March 2014, also explained how we would need to obtain a "Department of Defense Self-Service Logon (DS Logon),” a relatively new, secure, self-service logon ID that allows Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs members and affiliates access to real-time personalized information on government websites.

It says after the Army Knowledge Online purge this will be our only secure access online for these official websites. The major flaw in this change is that beginning Jan. 1, 2014, in order to receive correspondence from the Army, I will need to inform all the pertinent Army departments of my CIVILIAN email address for all electronic communication. My Army Knowledge Online email account will be discontinued by the end of this month, so I will never again receive official Army email on an official and SECURE Army email system.

I feel that this will expose me and make me more vulnerable to fraud and abuse, and puts me at the mercy of a non-secure civilian email system. This is “reneging on the promise” to those of us who served and made it to retiree status.

Only about 15 percent of Army reservists ever make it to retirement, and fewer of us live to see the retired pay at age 60. I just had my first heart attack at age 51, and because I had low cholesterol (106), exercised regularly, and had no family history of heart attacks, I can only assume the stress of three deployments since Sept. 11, 2001 contributed to my illness. I don't see age 60 as a sure thing anymore, and having this website rug pulled out from under me certainly adds to the stress column.

I have reached out to my national representatives in Congress, and to Gen. Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, from whom the message about Army Knowledge Online came, asking them to please consider amending the current decision to eliminate retirees, surviving spouses and family members from the secure system.

It is a necessary and important secure link to the organization we are tied to for life. I have upheld my end of the bargain, and have lived the Army Leadership Values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage in uniform and out since the mid 1980's when I signed up. I asked them to please not change my status now, when it's nearly time for me to begin receiving the compensation, benefits and respect I earned as a soldier.

I believe we also earned the right to maintain peace of mind when communicating with and receiving communication from the organization that we so proudly served, and would do so gladly again if called. 

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