Friday, January 9, 2009

Advice to Junior Officers: LES monitoring

A few things came to mind that I thought were worth mentioning for the junior officers that read my blog. As I was writing, this started turning into a really long post, so I broke it up into three parts. Part 1 was about tax withholding. Part 2 was about the Nuke Bonus and Thrift Savings Plan.

Part 3
. Leave and Earnings Statements

Nobody likes getting a letter from PSD saying, "We regret to inform you that you have been overpaid $9,999.99, and we intend to deduct it from your next 10 paychecks." This can be a readiness issue for your division, your department, and your command. If a sailor doesn't check his LES, gets overpaid, then all of a sudden gets a letter from PSD saying they're going to dock his pay to recoup his indebtedness to the U.S. government, then chances are he's not gonna be 100% focused on that rig-for-dive checklist... or that electrical safety checklist... or that precrit... or that heavy moving piece of equipment... You want your guys focused on those important things, so it's best if they're not stressed out or worried about being able to pay their bills.

It used to be that your Navy Leave and Earning Statement (LES) was delivered in paper copy to your ship's office. The ship's office would then distribute them to the division chiefs. The division chiefs would then examine their guys' LES to make sure they weren't getting shafted (e.g. overpaid or underpaid) and distribute them to the guys.

In an effort to move toward paperlessness, the Navy no longer provides the LES paper copies, and the division chief and division officer have no ability to get a copy. The responsibility has been completely shifted to the individual sailor to:
  1. Open his MyPay account on the internet once in a while (while you're in port... and he has access to a computer... and he's done reading all his email and facebook and myspace and iTunes and news and blogs and everything else that interests him)
  2. Actually look at his LES
  3. Recognize when something isn't right on his LES
  4. Actually remember the next day to follow-up on it and ask his chief or the ship's office if his pay is messed up.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of young sailors out there who don't know any better to look at their LES, and even if they do look at it they might not have the experience or wisdom to realize when something isn't right.

Whether you're a division officer or a division chief or even a leading petty officer, you should ask your guys to bring in a copy of their LES periodically.

Make it part of your check-in process for a new sailor reporting aboard your boat. Ask the new guy to bring a copy of his LES to his check-in interview with you. This will give you some reassurance that he knows his MyPay logon & password and knows how to access his LES.

Ask each of your guys to bring in an LES. Maybe not every month, but maybe every three months just to check it out and back them up. Heck, make it part of your mid-term counseling. You should pay special attention to this at a few important times when paychecks routinely get messed up.

Okay, so you followed my advice and had your guys bring in their LES. Now what?

Here are a few things to look for when you review a guy's LES:

- What is his withholding status? (See part 1 of this series about not giving the government an interest free loan). Underneath the Entitlements, Deductions, and Allotments blocks, look at the line that starts with "Leave" and scan your eyes over to the right where it says, "M/S" and "Ex". That's either "Marital Status" or "Married/Single" and "Exemptions."

- Is he getting paid what he's supposed to get paid? Hopefully, for the submariners out there, you should see Submarine Pay and Sea Pay in that left hand entitlements block.

- What is his paygrade listed on his LES? What rank does HE think he is? I know this may sound silly, but you would be surprised. I have had sailors in previous commands that either (a) weren't getting paid for their new higher paygrade after a promotion, or (b) were somehow mysteriously promoted in DFAS records and getting paid for a paygrade higher than they were wearing on their sleeve. And yes, I've had this happen and the sailor not realize he wasn't getting paid the right amount. It happens.

- Are there any extra things in the entitlements block that don't belong / aren't on anybody else's LES? Be particularly alert for some of these:

- COMRATS. (Commuted Rations) Normally, the Navy is obligated to provide 3 square meals per day for every enlisted sailor. Your Chop gets money from the Navy to buy food to serve to the crew for this purpose. (Aside: Officers are different. We get paid Basic Allowance for Sustinenece (BAS) and thus have to pay the Chop for the food we eat.) However (comma), sometimes the galley shuts down because you're in the shipyard or some major maintenance availability makes the boat an industrial environment and not safe or sanitary to eat on board. If the galley will be shut down for an extended period of time and it's not feasible for the crew to get to the base galley, then your ship's office will submit the paperwork to get your guys COMRATS. This puts money in their paycheck so they can afford to go out and buy their own food.

The danger is that when the galley reopens and the Chop is providing food for the crew to eat, the COMRATS is supposed to STOP being paid to your guys' paycheck. If you've just come out of a major maintenance availability or shipyard period where your guys WERE receiving COMRATS, then I highly recommend having your guys bring in an LES and prove to you that they're not receiving COMRATS anymore. Likewise, be alert for this when a new guy checks aboard - especially if he is transferring to your boat from a boat that was in the shipyard. It'll save you (and more importantly THEM) the hassle later on by preventing those letters from PSD telling your guys' they are indebted to the government to the tune of thousands of dollars.

- Family Separation Allowance (FSA) is a little extra pay the married guys get when you spend more than month away from home. So a month into deployment, your ship's office will send a letter or message to PSD to start FSA for all the married guys. Again, after you return from deployment, the FSA should stop. If you've been back from deployment for a couple of months and you see one of your guys has FSA in his LES, then you need to contact the ship's office and PSD and get that stopped.

Wrap Up

It would be nice if the Navy would give official command representatives like the ship's office yeomen the ability to print LES hard copies for the guys in your command and distribute them to the crew. Or, in the interest of saving paper, the yeomen or the division officer or division chief could be granted permission to just view the LES online to help their sailors out. In the meantime though, you can help your guys out if you ask for their hard copy LES and back-them up on receiving the pay they deserve and not a penny more - because PSD will eventually find out and come to take it back.

1 comment:

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