Norfolk, Va. – Hazed and tormented by his shipmates, a local sailor came to find that seeking help meant the Navy taking away thousands in pay.
So his family asked NewsChannel 3’s Laurie Simmons to take action.
“We are struggling to live, struggling to eat food.” Struggling, even though her husband serves in the United States Navy.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Tubbs should be able to support his family, but his wife Sarah has been staring at an empty bank account for months.
“It’s not right, it’s not fair, I shouldn’t be in this situation because my husband has PTSD,” said Tubbs.
The Navy started docking the family’s pay in August after doctors at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Their records say it was an effect of severe hazing during Chris’s time aboard the USS Enterprise.
“He was hit in the groin with fists, wrenches, nuts, bolts, anything you could find, even a hammer,” said Tubbs.
Because of his fragile mental state, doctors prevented Chris from deploying with the Truman, his new ship, and barred him from handling any weapons.
But that “limited duty” classification ultimately became his family’s undoing.
Chris suddenly lost his nuclear operator status and all the monetary perks that came along with it.
“They told us, ‘you are in an overpaid status, you owe the government $34,000,’” said Tubbs.
The Navy quickly started taking Chris’s bonus earned three years ago, docking $1,400 off their August paycheck without any notification.
When they tried to get help through his chain of command:
“We were given a waiver, but that could take 10 months, we don’t have 10 months of money to provide for my child and my family,” said Tubbs.
Frustrated by the runaround, Sarah turned to NewsChannel 3 for help.
“I’m coming forward to you all because I have nowhere to turn, I’m at my wits end with the military,” said Tubbs.
So we took action pouring through pages of Navy regulations that govern re-enlistment bonuses.
A Selective Re-enlistment Bonus policy update sent out in March of 2013 says “Repayment will not be sought when a member fails to complete an SRB contract in the following circumstances: incurs an injury or illness not due to misconduct, under specified conditions, resulting in separation or retirement for disability.”
Chris’s case is currently under review for possible medical separation, yet the bonus was docked before any final decisions have been made.
The Department of Defense’s own Financial Management Regulation says in Volume 7A, Chapter 2, “As a general rule, repayment action will not be pursued in situations in which the member’s inability to fulfill specified service conditions related to a pay or benefit is due to circumstances determined reasonably beyond the member’s control.”
The Tubbs feel PTSD clearly fits into that category.
“There needs to be no repercussions for coming forward for help,” said Tubbs.
So NewsChannel 3 brought the family’s story straight to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert during his recent visit to the USS George H.W. Bush, asking why sailors would want to come forward with mental health issues when they know their careers will be affected, and they will have to pay back tens of thousands of dollars.
“Because their health might be at risk, that’s why,” said Greenert. “We’ve seen some hard lessons, where people have hesitated coming forward, and those consequences are worse than any bonus.”
Not quite what the family of this sailor wanted to hear.
But just days after that interview with the CNO on October 23, the Navy suddenly contacted NewsChannel 3 – and changed their tune.
“We have stopped recoupment, and are taking a look at how and to what degree we can reimburse him for the money already taken out,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Navy’s Chief of Information Officer.
In an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 3, Kirby tried to explain why this big mistake happened in the first place, and why PO2 Tubbs was not alerted to his pay being docked.
“You are asking the same questions we are, the same questions we would like to know the answers to. Clearly some things were not passed onto this individual, or if they were, they were not passed on clearly enough,” said Rear Adm. Kirby. “In this particular case, we are taking a hard look at it ourselves, to see what if any mistakes we made…we are going to do everything we can, to make sure this particular sailor, Petty Officer Tubbs, gets the entitlements that he deserves.”
The Tubbs are just relieved that their next paycheck will be back to normal.
“It’s good to know that we have everything taken care of,” said Tubbs.
So in the end, why did the Navy finally do right by this family?
“It’s the fact that I came forward and asked you all to help us,” said Tubbs. “Taking action, it means a lot, because we don’t have to worry anymore.”