Tens of thousands of military retirees overseas are waiting to see if they will lose their military postal service privileges in two months, as some have been told.
The mixed messages they’ve received are causing confusion around the world about whether it’s going to happen or not.
But it is not a done deal.
“The Defense Department’s support to our military community is a top priority, and we are reviewing this issue to ensure authorized military postal service patrons are provided access worldwide,” said DoD officials in a statement provided to Military Times.
Many retirees are questioning why this change is being considered in the first place, after decades of being able to use FPO/APO addresses overseas,
A major concern among military retirees is that they would no longer be able to get their prescription medications through the Tricare Express Scripts mail-order pharmacy. Express Scripts Pharmacy can only mail prescriptions to U.S.-based addresses, State Department Pouch Mail and APO/FPO/DPO addresses. The Military Postal Service Agency provides postal services to DoD personnel and their families at locations around the world.
In May, Defense Department officials published a policy change that has been interpreted to mean that the only people authorized to use the FPO/APO system are military members and their dependents, DoD civilians and their dependents, and contractors who are authorized to accompany the force. That leaves out military retirees and others, such as Red Cross employees. The possible change was first reported by Stripes.com.
After the May DoD policy change, Military Postal Service Agency officials notified their overseas postal communities that affected patrons will be given 90 days advance notice that they will no longer be able to use FPO/APO service, according to a Military Postal Service Agency email obtained by Military Times.
According to DoD statistics, there are about 40,000 military retirees living overseas. That number doesn’t include family members of retirees who would also be affected. Retirees who now work as DoD civilians overseas would not lose their privileges.
Because postal service officials in different parts of the world have been putting out conflicting messages, confusion has run rampant, as well as speculation about the reasons behind the possible change. Some retirees have questioned whether it is driven by budget concerns; some have accused the Biden administration of “voter suppression” due to the impact the move could have on the absentee ballot process during this year’s midterm elections. And some retirees are calling the whole thing a hoax, because of the mixed messages.
It’s also not clear where the idea originated — the Military Postal Service Agency or someone higher up in the DoD chain.
Agency officials “recognized the need to clarify authorized users of the [military postal system] after a legal review determined that some MPS patron categories included over time are either not authorized by law or not permitted by host nation agreement,” according to the DoD statement to Military Times.
Those officials also acknowledged that money is a factor. “The same review was also unable to locate established fiscal authority for seven of the listed categories” of patrons, DoD officials stated.
But the MPSA email stated that this was a DoD policy change, and that the Military Postal Service Agency doesn’t make policy — MPSA just enforces it. The MPSA reports to the Army, and is the single mail manager for the Defense Department.
Before the change was published, Military Postal Service Agency officials sent a memo to Army officials asking them to alert DoD officials about the impacts of the impending policy change, according to the MPSA email.
But there have been conflicting messages from official sources, with some stating that retirees will continue to be able to use the Military Postal Service and others the opposite. This is creating “massive confusion throughout the world,” wrote Mark Favreau, volunteer director of the U.S. Military Retiree Support Services Office for Metro Manila, in a letter to the Military Postal Service Agency. He said he received a message Tuesday from Naval Supply Systems Command, Yokosuka, Japan, stating that the change would take effect Aug. 24, and those who are not authorized postal privileges would lose those privileges at the end of the day on Aug. 23.
In some countries, options are limited for receiving prescription drugs locally. For example, there are no U.S. military medical clinics in the Philippines, said Jack Walker, a retired Marine first sergeant who serves as the volunteer director of the Retired Activities Office in Subic Bay. He said those who have service-connected conditions can use the VA’s Foreign Medical Program, but that doesn’t include everyone.
John Quinn, a retired Navy master chief with 30 years of service, has been living in the Philippines for 15 years. “I depend on the FPO here for my maintenance medications sent from Tricare Express Scripts,” he said. Without access to an FPO box, he said, “I will now have to purchase my medications locally at a much higher price and with questionable quality.”
There’s a limit of one pound for mail through the military mail system, Walker said. He said it may take FPO mail about a week to get to the Philippines, but mail takes several weeks or longer to get through the Philippines mail system. “If FPO goes away, we may or may not get mail,” he said.
Some retirees and widows still get paper checks in the mail for things like Social Security payments, and they get mail from the Social Security Administration and the VA about scheduled appointments and other necessary information. If the letters don’t get there in time and the veteran doesn’t make the appointment — for an exam related to a disability claim, for example — their case may be closed.
For retirees voting absentee in states that don’t have the ability to send or receive absentee ballots online, this could affect retirees’ ability to vote, Walker said.
In addition to the issues associated with absentee ballot voting by mail, Quinn listed other effects, such as no longer being able to receive government-supplied COVID testing kits. And he foresees problems getting replacements for expired debit or credit cards. “Some financial institutions won’t send a card to a foreign address, while others insist on sending by DHL or FEDEX,” he said, which is costly.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.