Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. - More than 150 military retirees gathered Oct. 1 for the first Quad Cities Retiree Appreciation Day event to be held since the beginning of the pandemic.
Attendees were welcomed at RIA’s Heritage Hall by members of the Quad Cities Retiree Council and offered coffee and donuts provided by the USO. Following opening remarks by Col. Dan Mitchell, garrison commander and Brent Johnson, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin’s retiree services officer, presentations were given by representatives in key retiree areas of interest, to include financial and education benefits counseling, healthcare, legal assistance, and Veterans Administration benefits.
Kicking off the event, Mitchell addressed the audience and let them know how important their impact is in their communities, and the RIA community, even after they have hung up their uniforms and embraced civilian life.
“You are important,” he said. “You are important to this nation, to the Army, and you telling your story and talking about the opportunities you had and your experiences are relevant- especially today.”
Mitchell said their stories are a part of inspiring the younger generations to serve and being active in their communities and sharing their armed forces experiences is a way to not only pass on their experience, but to show how the camaraderie and professionalism that come with military service are lifelong benefits.
“You need to continue to tell your stories to the younger generations so that folks understand what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than yourself and the importance of serving and being a part of this nation’s military,” said Mitchell. “Young people today are searching for those things, and they want to know about how they can make a difference in the world- they want to know about how you did it and the benefits of that. Please don’t be shy to talk about your service.”
Following three years of a pandemic hiatus, the event served as a touchpoint for information some retirees missed during social distancing. With changes happening in health care and benefits, the event was a prime opportunity to get questions answered and learn about policy changes that have happened over the last few years.
Roberta Thomas from Rockford, Illinois, had tried to find resolution on an issue she is having, but was getting different information from sources online and over the phone. This in-person retiree event helped her solve a problem she’d been searching for an answer to for two years.
“This has been very informative for me,” she said. “The ability to network today and have of the points of contact under one roof has been great. It’s irritating when you are trying to do this over the phone and the left hand doesn’t seem to know what the right hand is doing. Being here in person – you get a lot of questions answered and even if they can’t answer some, they have the right information on where to go.”
Comments like Thomas’ are exactly why Ken Thompson, a senior government account representative with Blue Cross Blue Shield Federal Employee Program, said it’s so important to have in-person events and get out and talk face-to-face with military retirees.
“A few years ago, the military adopted the programs of the Office of Personnel Management’s federal employee dental and vision insurance program,” he said. “Now retirees have additional benefits available to them they haven’t had previously. Now they have more vendors to choose from based on their needs.”
Thompson says the biggest challenge many retiree benefit representatives have is lack of access to military retiree records to interact directly with retirees, outside of events like this. That makes getting updated changes to programs to retirees difficult. At retiree events like this, he can be on-hand to share the new of updated policies and improvements, as well as answer questions about how the benefits work for the retiree and their families.
“We have no records for military retirees. The communication structure is challenging to try to reach who we need to reach with the right information,” he said. “That is why we try to come out to events like this, geared just for retirees, and finding retirees to communicate these benefits to them. We depend a lot of retirees reading their mail and staying up to date, but we come to these events to make sure they are current on their benefits and opportunities.”
The RIA Retiree Appreciation Day in once again slated to be an annual event and more about next year’s date will be released as the date approaches next fall. For more information about military retiree benefits for those living in the Quad Cities, please contact the region’s servicing retiree services office at Fort McCoy at (608) 388-3716, or visit: