Karen Schilling was excited to retire so she could spend more time with her grandkids.
Instead of enjoying family fun, Karen was suffering from pension problems.
“I was getting pretty angry. And scared,” says Karen.
Karen was a nurse at the Federal Medical Center in Devens for more than twenty years.
“It was a great job, I loved it,” says Karen.
But after doing the math, she realized she could finally retire.
“Looking at what I was making at the prison, and what I could make retired, it’s pretty close to the same,” says Karen.
Close to the same — if she could count on her pension checks.
“It did not happen,” says Karen.
Karen says she followed standard procedure and filed the paperwork for her pension about six months before she retired.
She refiled the same paperwork on her last day in August.
“I was told within two to 3 months after retirement that I would get my full annuity,” says Karen.
But seven months after leaving her job, Karen still wasn’t getting her pension.
No one could tell her why the checks weren’t coming, or when they would.
“I ended up having to dip into my retirement account just to make it, just to get by,” says Karen. “How am I going to survive?”
Karen is not alone. A Facebook page for the Federal Bureau of Prison staff shows a nationwide problem.
Karen showed us what’s being said … “This is just one post with 74 comments of people waiting for either their partial annuity or full,” says Karen. “People were very angry. We’ve all worked for 20 plus years at a job giving our all and not getting what we deserve.”
The average pension is processed in two to three months.
So why wasn’t Karen getting her checks?
The government agency that processes pensions for federal workers, the Office of Personnel Management, tells 7-Investigates it has a backlog of more than 25,000 and that “the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normal operations.”
In a statement, an agency spokesperson said, “OPM is committed to providing federal retirees with the high level of service they deserve. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted normal operations as government agencies and payroll centers have adapted process to protect the health and safety of personnel while continuing to meet the needs of those we serve. OPM has taken a number of steps – including adjustments to business processes, authorizing overtime work and close coordination with payroll centers – to reduce case inventory and speed processing times. We will continue to work closely with agency partners to identify opportunity to improve service to customers.”
When asked why claims may be taking so long to pay out, 7 Investigates was told, “Timeliness of retirement processing has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies and payroll centers as well as OPM have been operating under procedures designed to protect staff throughout the pandemic. While these procedures are also designed to ensure that work continues, they have understandably reduced the number of cases we’re able to process given that paper-based nature of the processes.”
Anna-Marie Tabor, director of the Pension Action Center at UMass Boston, was surprised to hear that OPM was still paper-based.
“It’s a big problem especially during the pandemic when people can’t just go into the office and pull out a box of documents. These records really should be converted to electronic documents so that they can be accessed in 2021, especially in case of a pandemic,” says Tabor.
To decrease the backlog, the OPM spokesperson went on to say, “OPM is working overtime and has adjusted its business processes … We are also working with agencies and payroll centers to identify opportunities to process cases faster.”
After 7 Investigates got involved, Karen started getting her checks.
She worries for others who need the money to live.
“This is just wrong,” says Karen. “It’s affecting people’s lives.”
IF YOU NEED HELP:
If you are a federal employee and you aren’t getting your pension payments, you can reach out to your representative in Congress for help.
The Pension Action Center can also assist you. They are a free pension counseling and advocacy service located at UMass Boston and serve people who lived or worked in New England and Illinois.
You can reach the PAC by calling 1-888-425-6067, or by completing a request for assistance on this website: http://www.umb.edu/pensionaction
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