The Navy has finally cleared its backlog of discharge paperwork, according to the service’s personnel chief, an issue that has plagued the service for the last year and stopped departing sailors from moving on with their lives.
“The DD-214 backlog is gone,” said Vice Admiral Rick Cheeseman, referring to the title of the form that is the key document all service members need at separation.
"Folks in Norfolk are working on July retirement DD-214s right now – in the middle of April,” the Navy’s chief of naval personnel added.
Cheeseman spoke with Military.com on Tuesday as part of a recording session for an upcoming episode of the publication’s podcast, Fire Watch.
The Navy’s struggle to get sailors their retirement and separation paperwork on time goes back to at least last summer. Sailors leaving the service told Military.com that the holdup in getting their DD-214 was costing them money, jobs and adding stress during a period of major upheaval in their lives.
The issue stemmed, in large part, from a push to consolidate the old personnel support detachments (PSDs) into a single command -- MyNavy Career Center, or MNCC.
The argument from the service was that the old, small personnel offices that many sailors were familiar with were inconsistent and that the processes needed to be standardized to be more efficient.
However, sailors and officials who work in these offices said that this change also removed a lot of the institutional knowledge and expertise about how to manage the often complex and multistep process of separating someone from the service correctly.
Cheeseman agreed. “We hollowed out training for [clerks]; we took people savings based on technology that would come that didn't show up on time,” he said before adding that “we're putting that back in.”
Though the admiral did note that while sailors may have enjoyed having a small, physical office to visit to get paperwork done, “statistically about half of all transactions generated by a PSD had to be reworked up chain.”
In addition, as these smaller PSDs closed, they passed their individual backlogs to the larger offices where they consolidated into a serious problem.
While the move to close these smaller personnel offices has been unpopular among the fleet, Cheeseman said that it was crucial in spotting and helping to fix the backlogs.
“I am certain if we had PSD concepts that we would not have known in virtually real time last year, the scope of the travel claim problems and the scope of the DD-214 problem,” he said.
“We’re able to generate the resources needed to get those backlogs down in those specific areas, to really take a hard look at all pay and personnel transactions, to clearly understand the standards, to clearly understand what we're resourced to -- which was not these aspirational standards that we had talked about,” the three-star admiral explained.
Going forward, Cheeseman says that most sailors should not have problems getting their retirement paperwork on time -- though he does admit that “there's 10% -- the complicated things -- that we need to get better at.”
But Cheeseman’s top enlisted sailor, Fleet Master Chief Delbert Terrell, also noted that the old option of asking senior enlisted sailors to fix problems by talking to their peers still exists.
Terrell, also speaking with Military.com as part of the Fire Watch podcast, said that MNCC’s command master chief is available to have conversations with fellow chiefs on the “who, what, when, where, why, how” of a problem, and he can do a deep dive on where he needs to go in his organization to remedy that solution.”
“I am certain we're better,” Cheeseman said.
“I am working very hard to produce tangible data that I can share with folks … because my word saying we're inside the … timeline is not good enough. I need to prove it to my Navy and my sailors.”
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.