By Aiko Rose Brum, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsOctober 16, 2008
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Getting information to more than 8,700 Army retirees and surviving spouses who live in Hawaii is no easy task, especially when many of them don't surf the Internet. That's why the Retirement Services Office regularly canvasses its mailing list and invites those who can to attend its annual Retiree Appreciation Day, Oct. 4.
The gathering allows the U.S. Army Retiree Council-Hawaii to pass along the latest updates, among them, this year, the state of the Army in the Pacific, retiree pay, and a modern-day malady - identity theft.
What's happening to our Army'
U.S. Army-Pacific's (USARPAC) deputy commanding general, Brig. Gen. John Seward, gave the audience of more than 350 retirees the latest news about the region - an area spanning 16 time zones, 50 percent of the earth's surface, and 60 percent of the world's population, he said.
USARPAC's area of responsibility includes seven of the world's 10 largest armies, four of its most populous countries, and 38 percent of all U.S. trade. Such a broad area presents great opportunities and hefty challenges, according to Seward.
Although USARPAC is now a "warfighting headquarters ... it's also about the business of enabling peace," Seward said, explaining that medical, intelligence, engineering and logistics exchanges, as well as exercises and training, are extremely valuable in the region.
After giving more perspective and USARPAC's operational tempo in the war on terror, Seward answered questions. Most puzzling for retirees Oct. 4 were issues closer to home - why the change to an Army blue uniform, the meaning of the USARPAC shoulder patch, and who gets assigned to privatized family housing in Hawaii.
What's going on with my pay'
Pay is an issue close to the heart, said retired Lt. Gen. Allen Ono, chair of the U.S. Army Retiree Council-Hawaii; therefore, he ensured that the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) was booked to deliver vital information.
Dennis Disbrow, with Legislation and Policy, Retired and Annuity Pay, DFAS, Cleveland, Ohio, said the retiree's best tool is on the Internet at the secure MyPay Web site, https://mypay.dfas.mil. Retirees can start, stop or make changes to their pay-related data, such as direct deposit, allotments, tax exemptions, savings bonds, insurance beneficiaries, and account information.
"We receive 87,000 letters and faxes a month," Disbrow said, "so you can see the advantage of using MyPay." He continued, "When you use MyPay, this puts you right into the processing of your account. You can get answers to frequently asked questions and also access the newsletters that we send out," he explained.
During Q&A, retirees and surviving spouses were most concerned about COLA, the cost of living allowance.
"COLA for this (coming) year will be set on October 16th," Disbrow said. "Right now it's at 5.9 percent. It could be higher; it could be lower."
Why is a shredder the first line of defense'
"A paper shredder has become an essential first line of defense against identity theft - a serious, sneaky, silent and awful crime," Ono said, "that can ruin our bank accounts, our reputation, and our confidence in living our lives."
Special Agent Chiko Hoge with the U.S. Secret Service, Honolulu Bureau, presented statistics, defined terms that were new to many in the audience - like shoulder surfing, dumpster diving, skimming, pretexting and phishing - and discussed other need-to-know facts.
She shared several sobering examples of criminal behavior, but emphasized retirees and surviving spouses can minimize their risk.
"Please don't throw anything that has personal information on it in your garbage," she stressed. "Be aware. Check your monthly billing statements and financial documents. One, make sure you are receiving them monthly, regularly, and two, I want you to check them to make sure there's no unusual charges or changes to your account information."
Hoge emphasized safeguarding information like SSNs (Social Security numbers), PINs (personal identification numbers), passwords and Internet connections.
During the 15-minute break after her presentation, victims of ID theft flocked to her table to get additional advice.
Ono assured the crowd that the U.S. government is taking action, too. Next year, military retirees and family members will be issued ID cards that do not contain an SSN.
Can I still use Legal Assistance'
"It's not the most pleasant subject," Ono began, "but it's something we've got to hear to take care of our personal responsibilities."
He was speaking of legal matters like wills, taxes and powers of attorney.
Richard Brawley, chief, Legal Assistance Office, Staff Judge Advocate, said Schofield and Fort Shafter offices are open to retirees and surviving spouses. He encouraged them to call or drop by and take advantage of their valuable benefit.
What's going on in Washington that impacts me'
The keynote speaker, retired Maj. Gen. William Matz Jr., president of the National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS), Springfield, Va., stirred the audience with legislative news - making them forget that he stood between them and lunch.
"Let me assure you," Matz said of the nonprofit, nonpartisan military association, "the promises made to those in uniform, past and present, need to be kept."
NAUS, which comprises 90 chapters in the U.S. and overseas, gives voice to uniformed services issues. The audience gave rousing applause affirming their agreement with several comments Matz made throughout his keynote address, among them proper funding for deployed troops, low Tricare enrollment fees and low prescription drug copays, and prohibitions on desecrating the American flag.
"Only 25 percent of our members of Congress ever served in the military, and of that percentage, only 9 percent have ever served in combat," Matz noted, "less than five percent (of staffers) ever served in uniform."
He explained NAUS spends a great deal of time educating Congress about veterans, the military and their families.
"We need to get our Congress to sort out our nation's priorities, to use common sense," Matz said, after listing what he called a host of exorbitant "pet projects" that are put before sacrifices made by America's military.
He closed his presentation discussing how Hawaii legislators voted on various bills, the organization's wins and defeats on Capitol Hill, and the need for veterans to be involved at the grassroots level.
Once the colors had been retired, Ono said, "All and all, we accomplished what we set out to do" at Retiree Appreciation Day.
Next week, he said, my Council will begin making plans for next year.
Get more details
Aca,!AcCall MyPay Customer Support at 1-888-DFAS411 (332-7411); write to DFAS at Defense Finance and Accounting Service, U.S. Military Retired Pay, P.O. Box 7130, London, KY 40742-7130 - but be sure to include your SSN, printed name & signature; or visit https://mypay.dfas.mil.
Aca,!AcRequest your free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, call toll-free 1-877-322-8228, or write Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Aca,!AcLearn more about ID theft at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Aca,!AcIf you become a victim of ID theft, immediately request a free Fraud Alert with any credit bureau:
- TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com;
-Equifax, 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com; or
-Experian, 1-888- Experian (397-3742), www.experian.com.
By law, notification at one bureau notifies all three.
Aca,!AcCall Fort Shafter's Legal Assistance at 438-6725 or drop by Building 718; call Schofield Barracks at 655-8607 or drop by Building 2037. Call the Tax Center, Building 360, at 655-1040.