Beyond the Horror Stories

By Tammy Flanagan

November 8, 2013

Regular readers of this column know that I’m an eternal optimist. I’ve been trying to find the bright side to the October government shutdown, and I think I’ve finally succeeded.

The Office of Personnel Management expected to receive 8,400 new retirement claims for processing in October. Possibly due to the shutdown, the agency received only 7,484 -- and the previous month it got only 5,800 instead of the anticipated 8,400. Since OPM stayed open for the most part during the shutdown, its employees continued to process more cases than they received. That cut the overall backlog of cases awaiting processing to 14,176 at the end of October. Keep in mind that OPM processes over 100,000 new claims annually.

OPM is now very near its goal of retirees receiving their first annuity payments within 60 days after the agency receives their applications -- down from 156 days at the beginning of 2012. That’s when OPM unveiled a new strategic plan for retirement services.

We hear horror stories of delays in retirement processing all the time, but here’s a positive one. Steve, an employee who had his retirement processed through the Army Benefits Center at Ft. Riley, Kan., wanted me to share his experience to show that getting your retirement processed smoothly is a joint effort between the employee, the agency that he or she retires from and OPM.

Here’s what Steve had to say:

Just want to say thank you for an easy transition to retirement. I took your class in Rock Island, Ill., about two years ago.

So, about two months to get my retirement settled, despite the shutdown, and interim payments were plenty. I'd heard all the horror stories. Glad those didn't happen in my case. Believe the tricks are:

Check with your agency well in advance (2-3 years) to make sure they have everything correct.

Submit retirement well in advance (4 months in my case).

It probably helps that I had no break in service, no former spouse, no military buyback, and only worked for one agency (Defense, although I did work for more than one part of Defense). Just wanted to give you an example of how a simple retirement went much faster than the six months one reads about as the average.

Thanks to Steve for sharing his experience. Hopefully it will ease the minds of some employees who are planning end-of-year retirements. There will continue to be stories of processing delays, since each individual case has its own set of potential pitfalls. Don’t lose sleep over this, but do be aware of a few key tips regarding retirement processing:

By Tammy Flanagan

November 8, 2013