Retirement Grade Determinations for Navy and Marine Corps Officers

This post will discuss retirement grade determinations (RGD) for Regular Navy and Marine Corps Officers.  This post addresses the situation in which an officer has earned the right to retire as an officer but may face a RGD. There are certain requirements to retire as an officer that will not be addressed in this post; for example, certain officers can automatically revert to enlisted pay grades upon retirement where they fail to satisfactorily serve as an officer for 10 years.  The Secretary of the Navy is the final authority for RGDs for Navy and Marine Corps Officers.  The Army and Air Force follow similar processes, but each Department has its own unique components.

RGDs for Navy and Marine Corps Officers take place under two circumstances.  The first is where a retirement-eligible officer is (over 20 years of service) faces show cause for retention, and elects to appear before a Board of Inquiry (BOI).  In those cases, Enclosures 6 and 8 to SECNAVINST 1920.6 (series) governs the RGD.  The officer will be retired if the BOI finds the basis for show is supported by the evidence and warrants separation and the BOI recommends separation (a retirement-eligible officer cannot lose his or her retirement by being separated at a BOI, regardless of the characterization of service).   Enclosure 8 directs the BOI members as follows with respect to the RGD:

In the case of a retirement-eligible officer, if separation is recommended, the board shall recommend whether the officer should be retired in the current grade or a lesser grade. The board must recommend the grade in which the officer last served satisfactorily for a period of not less than 6 months.

General guidance on what factors to consider in a RGD are found in Enclosure 6, which provides that retirement in a lesser grade may be warranted when and officer’s misconduct was serious enough to constitute a significant departure from conduct required of officers in the Naval Service (which includes the Marine Corps).  The enclosure gives examples of such misconduct: abuse of special position of trust; an act or acts which bring discredit upon the armed services; disregard by a superior of customary superior-subordinate relationships; acts or omissions that adversely affect the ability of the military unit or the organization to maintain discipline, good order, and morale or endanger the security of the United States or the health and welfare of other members of the Armed Forces; and deliberate acts or omissions that seriously endanger the
capability, security, or safety of the military unit or health and safety of other persons.  Finally, the instruction provides an exception where the officer’s record, in spite of the misconduct, is otherwise so meritorious as to demonstrate the officer served satisfactorily in the grade currently held, the recommendation should be for retirement in that grade.

In practice, the BOI members will, on the findings worksheet, recommend a specific pay grade at which the officer should be retired.  Following the BOI, the BOI report, including the findings worksheet and all other related documents, will be forwarded back through the show cause authority to the separation authority – normally the Assistance Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) who has been delegated as the separation authority for officers in paygrades O6 and below.  The ASN will make the final determination regarding separation, characterization of service, and retirement grade.  The recommendation of the BOI is given great weight in the finale RGD.  In summary, officers that elect a BOI will have the opportunity to present documents and testimony to the BOI in support of a specific retirement grade.  If a retirement-eligible officer waives the right to a BOI and submits a retirement request in lieu of BOI, the officer is required to submit a statement acknowledging that he or she will face a RGD and may be reduced in paygrade upon retirement.

The second circumstance where a RGD will be made by the Secretary of the Navy (ASN) occurs where a retirement-eligible officer submits a voluntary retirement request and the officer has been the subject of a “substantiated adverse finding or conclusion from an official documented investigation or inquiry.”  This process is explained in Enclosure 6 to SECNAVINST 1920.6.  Common examples of a substantiated adverse finding or conclusion include: a report of misconduct (including a civilian conviction or NJP); a substantiated IG investigation; or a substantiated EO investigation.  For officers in the pay grades below O6, the two years runs from the date of the voluntary retirement request and the date the investigation or inquiry was completed.  However, there is an exception for the two year requirement (essentially nullifying the requirement) at the discretion of the Chief of Navy Personnel or Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA).

Once this RGD review is triggered by the retirement request, the officer is then notified in writing that a RGD will be made by the Secretary of the Navy, the basis for the RGD, and the Chief of Navy Personnel or Deputy Commandant for M&RA recommended retirement grade.  In response to this notification, the officer can submit a written response.  The officer is not entitled to a hearing before a board.

Often, an officer is retained at a BOI, becomes retirement eligible soon thereafter, and submits his voluntary retirement request thinking that because, even though misconduct was found, he was retained at the BOI, a RGD review will not be triggered.  That is incorrect.  As long as the adverse finding or conclusion is within 2 years of the voluntary retirement request, there will be a RGD.

The focus of any RGD response by an officer should be tailored to address the factors in Enclosure 6 and be supported by documentary evidence.

Attorney Patrick Korody is a former Navy JAG who currently practices law in Jacksonville, FL and represents military officers facing allegations of misconduct or substandard performance worldwide.  He has successfully defended senior officers at BOIs and in RGD responses.  He offers a free consultation and can be reached at (904) 383-7261.

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