Nuclear School Sailors Run into Housing Pay Delays

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The Navy Nuclear Power Training Command
The Navy Nuclear Power Training Command houses the schools for Navy electronics mates, electrical technicians and machinist mates at Joint Base Charleston – Weapons Station, S.C. (Thomas T. Charlton/U.S. Air Force)

Sailors at the Navy's challenging nuclear power school faced delays getting their housing allowances, the result of a miscommunication and more side effects of the service's efforts to update its IT systems.

Because of confusion over which personnel command was required to process some paperwork, 175 students had their housing payments -- $1,455 a month -- put on hold, forcing the sailors either to wait for the stipend or dip into their paychecks for rent.

Sailors who are part of the Navy's nuclear training pipeline begin their extensive schooling at the Nuclear Power Training Command outside of Charleston, S.C.. After single sailors finish their first two programs, a total of 12 months of training not including any wait time for a class to convene, they are required to move out of Navy housing.

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Military.com received reports that some sailors were waiting months before beginning to see the payments, but could not confirm that time frame before publication. Navy spokesman Cmdr. Rick Chernitzer confirmed that the problem began in September, but the last affected sailor has had their pay fixed in the last week.

Chernitzer said that once sailors graduate from their second course -- the Navy Nuclear Power School -- they are moved to a temporary holding command that allows them to wait for their next course -- commonly called "prototype" -- to become ready. That's when their housing allowance is supposed to kick in.

Chernitzer went on to note that until the Navy began consolidating the offices that process a sailor's pay and allowances into the MyNavy Career Center (MNCC), a local unit in Charleston would work on getting sailors their housing stipend.

That job has now been taken over by an office based in Great Lakes, Ill., which, according to Chernitzer, had the benefit of "removing the variance that existed because of the previously decentralized model." But the handoff between offices has triggered the issue with housing allowances.

In a previous interview with Military.com, Rear Adm. Stuart Satterwhite, the man in charge of MNCC, explained one of the issues with the local office model that the consolidation looked to fix was each office, like the one in Charleston, developed "their own boutique services," offering to do things for sailors in non-standard ways. "They all developed their own little culture," Satterwhite added.

According to Chernitzer, in this case, the Charleston office "had incorrectly taken on some work the schoolhouses should have been doing and the shift to TSC Great Lakes highlighted this issue."

This delay in pay is far from the only repercussion being felt by sailors as a result of the massive changes going on at MNCC. Military.com has reported on the stories of many sailors who have been impacted by delays -- some months long -- in getting their formal discharge paperwork. To deal with this backlog, the Navy has even resorted to forgoing having sailors sign their discharge forms.

In his interview with Military.com, Satterwhite also hinted at other, less significant delays for other administrative transactions like having new orders made out or reimbursing sailors for moves.

The delay in pay hits sailors in the nuclear school particularly hard. For one, the delay adds more stress and work to students at what the Navy proudly boasts is "widely acknowledged as ... the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military." Furthermore, sailors slated to operate nuclear reactors also need to undergo a security clearance process.

Racking up debt because the Navy isn't paying you enough money to make rent could imperil that review. One website that specializes in job for people with clearances pointedly notes that "a sampling of Defense Office of Hearing and Appeals (DOHA) security clearance hearings from 2007 showed that about 50 percent of clearance denials involved 'Financial Considerations.'"

Chernitzer said the command has put in place some solutions that should prevent any further issues.

One key change will be that the nuclear power school will now submit batch transactions for entire graduating classes -- around 500 sailors -- to start the housing allowance process instead of individual transactions for each student, Chernitzer said.

The Navy is also making a "significant reduction in the amount of required key supporting documents" they will now ask from the sailors as well as implementing "a new case naming convention ... to more easily identify and prioritize cases for these students."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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