COLD SPRING, Minn. - An area woman who retired from a job at the VA Hospital in St. Cloud last July is still waiting for the federal government to calculate her pension benefits 11 months later.
"It's been frustrating because I'm not very patient," Barbara Maus of Cold Spring told KARE.
She spent decades working as an administrative assistant in the VA Hospital's dental clinic, scheduling patients and other tasks. But at age 74, Maus decided to retire.
"I took time off to take care of my daughter, but I knew if I went back I would never leave, because I enjoyed by job," Maus recalled.
"So I just called in and told them I was retiring."
She was told at the time, in July of 2013, that she'd be receiving a letter explaining her pension options. At that point she would get to choose between an lump sum annuity or monthly payments. That letter still has not arrived, as of June 11.
"I told her it was like a countdown," Barb's husband Jack Maus told KARE.
"It's six months, it's seven months, it's eight months, it's nine months. I say, 'Well the anniversary is coming up real soon. It will be July soon, a whole year since you left the VA."
Barb Maus is not a typical federal pensioner. She retired once, at age 62, and started drawing a pension. She then returned to the VA dental clinic in 2003 and logged another 10 years, bringing her total years of service to 28.
"I had a first pension the first time I retired. Now I'm waiting to find out what they've decided about my second pension."
She can only assume she's entitled to a larger pension, as a result of those extra 10 years of service. But those answers are tied up at the Office of Personnel Management in Washington D.C.
"I'm guessing I started at the bottom of the pile, and have slowly worked my way up to the top of it," Maus speculated.
According to published reports "reemployed annuitants" such as Maus have created paperwork headaches for the OPM. And Maus, having worked in a government office for so many years, says she understands that federal workers can at times be buried in paperwork.
"Just around the time we had the federal government shutdown I said, 'Okay, I'll wait and let them get that settled, get caught up with their paperwork."
VA asks Barb for money
The only letter Maus received so far is from the VA payroll office telling her she owes the VA $638. The February letter said the VA accidentally didn't deduct enough from her paycheck for retirement benefits between 2003 and 2009.
The VA discovered the oversight in 2009 and changed her contribution rate, but is now asking her to make up the difference.
"I just worked and thought they would be taking care of it. I wouldn't know how much they're supposed to take out of my check," Maus explained.
"If they had told me back in 2009, while I was still working and still had income I would've tried to pay it."
She hasn't paid the VA yet, but did retain an attorney to help handle that part of her personnel issues.
Maus has not been able to find out whether the $638 under-payment has anything to do with the hangup with her pension calculations at the Office of Personnel Management in Washington.
She received a phone call in early May saying that Social Security had weighed in on her pension benefits, and that her file had been forwarded to someone for review.
"I get to the person eventually that I need to talk to, and she knows what she's talking about it seems, but she covers things rather quickly, and she assumes I know what she's talking about."
Waiting for word
Maus said for years she did all she could to help veterans get the health benefits they needed. And she saw the St. Cloud VA hospital management respond to backups by hiring more dentists and dental assistants, and eventually expanding the unit.
Maus said she'd hope that the federal personnel office would take the same types of steps to solve pension paperwork backups. She wasn't encouraged when the person she dealt with at OPM told her the office had sustained staffing cuts.
"I just finally decided okay, I'll let it be. I'll not pester them. Maybe that will give them enough time to get it squared away," Maus remarked.
She also contacted Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office, hoping to expedite the process. She hasn't heard whether or not that had any impact.
For what it's worth Maus did not contact KARE, and was a bit reluctant to go public with her problem.
Her daughter Mary wrote a short letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, pointing out that her mother had waited since July to get her pension benefits. That is how KARE learned of the problem, and why the station contacted Maus.
Message left for OPM's media staff had not been returned yet at deadline.