This is a bit of a rant, and a bit of a Public Service Announcement (PSA). Why in the heck is the military so really, really bad at keeping paperwork? I don’t know, but I have a solution for you. (Not for the military – that’s way above my paygrade.)
I ask this question because I’ve just had my bjillionth inquiry from a survivor who has been told that their service member spouse declined Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage, but no one can seem to come up with the form to prove that the coverage was declined. And the rules for SBP are that if the coverage isn’t declined, with spousal concurrence in written form, then the coverage exists. But despite the rules saying that you are covered unless coverage is declined, it seems that survivors sometimes need to prove that it wasn’t declined. Which sort of seems to conflict with the intent of the rules, but what do I know.
But it’s not just SBP issues. People have had trouble with their GI Bill transfers, SGLI beneficiaries, and all sorts of other things. And the military frequently doesn’t have copies of those important documents. Someone recently told me that their administrative record (I don’t know what their branch calls it) had 2 or 3 papers in it, for a 28 year career. Doesn’t that seem ridiculous?
So, here’s the PSA part. KEEP EVERYTHING. Yes, it’s a pain, especially when you move all the time. But find a way to make it happen.
How To Keep Documents
- Keep paper copies.
- Scan things and upload them to the cloud. (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.)
- Email them to yourself.
Ask your parents to put copies in their safe deposit box.
What To Keep
- Leave and Earnings Statements (LES)
- bonus paperwork
- TSP forms
- anything to do with the GI Bill
- medical stuff
- everything even vaguely related to separation or retirement
- receipts from picking up or turning in equipment
- anything else that comes your way and could possibly ever be important
If you’re new to the military, start now. If you’re three weeks from retirement, hop online and print out everything you can access, and keep any new documents you receive. I hope you never need them, but if you do need them, you’ll be prepared.
If you can think of other documents that need to be saved, please tell me in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks!
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