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Navy suddenly tells retiring troops they owe 3 more years of service amid recruiting troubles

More than 750 doctors, nurses, corpsmen and support personnel from across the Navy embarked aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort in support of the U.S. military response to the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. (U.S. Navy/Released)
May 09, 2023

At least 65 military doctors and dentists in the Navy Reserves were told on Friday that they still had to undertake at least three more years of service, a shocking development caused by administrative record-keeping errors in their retirement credits, officials claimed as the U.S. military continues to face a historic decline in military recruits.

According to NBC News, multiple officers voiced their displeasure with the order, including one dentist who said, “They’re trying anyway possible to retain us, even if it is trying to strong-hand us.”  

To retire from the military with included benefits, members must serve a minimum of 20 years of qualifying service. Previously, physicians and dentists who successfully completed the Armed Forces Health Professionals Scholarship Program were credited with up to four years in retirement credits if they then followed up and joined the Selected Reserve — the military’s main reservists force — after completing their active-duty service requirements. 

According to a 2002 Army memorandum, the Army, Navy and Air Force were using that credit as an incentive in an attempt to retain employees in the healthcare field, considered to be a “critical wartime shortage specialty.”

Starting last year, Navy Reserve members started to see their credit from participation in the program vanish off their official record. The Air Force and Army have confirmed that they do still include participation in the program as credit towards military retirement.  

“I feel like I’m trapped,” a doctor said. “It’s terrible. It’s unfair. It’s dishonorable.” 

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In January 2022, one doctor’s record showed that he had completed 19 years of qualifying service. Six months later, it showed a decrease to 16 years.  

Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer, a Navy Personnel Command spokesperson, stated to NBC News that a “data migration issue” within the Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System “prematurely” credited four years of service credit to officers’ official records. 

The clerical error previously permitted 95 people to retire with full benefits before being eligible, Chernitzer commented.  

The Navy has said that the affected workers will still retain credit for their service during those years but only after they reach the required 20 years of qualifying service to officially retire. The military healthcare workers have voiced their complaints about the fact that this defeats the whole purpose of the promised recruitment incentive.  

One of the dentists voiced his dissatisfaction and said he would not have accepted the offer in the first place had he known.  

“The four years was offered as a recruiting incentive, and to blame a migration error is a bold-faced lie,” the dentist said.  

The U.S. Army missed its 2022 recruiting goal by 15,000 troops, marking a 25 percent miss from the 60,000 new soldiers it sought to recruit before the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. It’s the worst miss on record for the service since the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force nearly 50 years ago.