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Returning US soldiers face financial, medical difficulties

scottyz

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Wounded US soldiers who have returned home are increasingly finding that they are being referred to credit agencies by the US military because of discrepancies in pay or "failure to pay" for lost equipment.

The Washington Post reported Saturday the story of one soldier, Robert Loria, victim of a bombing in Iraq, who had spent months in an Army hospital. He was not aware that he had not been "downgraded" in his pay scale – once soldiers leave a war zone, their pay goes down.

The last thing on his mind, he said, was whether the Army had correctly adjusted his pay rate ... or whether his combat gear had been accounted for properly: his Kevlar helmet, his suspenders, his rucksack.

But nine months after Loria was wounded, the Army garnished his wages and then, as he prepared to leave the service, hit him with a $6,200 debt. That was just before last Christmas, and several lawmakers scrambled to help. This spring, a collection agency started calling. He owed another $646 for military housing.

The Post reports that the US military recently identified 331 other soldiers who accumulated the same kind of "military debt" after they were wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. The military says they have forgiven the debt of 99 of the soldiers. The other 232 cases "have not been resolved."

"This is a financial friendly fire," charged Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) of Virginia, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has been looking into the issue. "It's awful." Davis called the failure systemic and said military "pay problems have been an embarrassment all the way through" the war.

The cause of the problem, according to military officials, is an outdated Defense Department computer system that "does not automatically link pay and personnel records." The Pentagon has been trying to fix the problem since the mid-'90s.
What exactly does the Pentagon do with the billions of tax dollars it gets? In the grand scheme of things a new computer system would cost pennies compared to many of their other projects.

The Roanoke Times writes in an editorial that this is the latest in a string of problems that the Bush administration has had in dealing with soldiers, both full-time military and National Guard and Reserve troops. The Times pointed to a recent cut of a billion dollars in the Veterans Affairs budget, and the problems outfitting soldiers in war zones with proper equipment. The pay issue just compounds the situation.

The GAO found that more than 90 percent of the soldiers in some Reserve and Guard units have incurred payroll errors during deployment. Organizations such as the Wounded Warriors Project in Roanoke are attempting to put aggrieved soldiers in touch with the GAO to provide an accurate accounting of soldiers stuck with debts because of the Army's mistakes. America owes those who serve in uniform, especially the wounded, an enormous debt – not the other way around.

The Northwest Indiana Times reported last week on another soldier who was discharged from the military in the middle of medical treatment for a "line of duty" medical condition, in a case that critics say points to problems with the "new community-based health care initiative designed to help reservists and national guardsmen return home from active duty."

Meanwhile, The San Diego Union-Tribune [registration required] reported that last month veterans' groups criticized a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to review 72,000 cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that have occurred between 1999 and 2004. The groups say the move is just an attempt by the government to "cut benefits for older veterans and toughen qualifications for future ones."

The department says the move is a "paper exercise," and that they are not looking to reduce benefits. What they are looking for are the cases where the "supply clerk who never left Fort Polk" is getting PTSD benefits. But veterans' groups say the department's aim is "more bottom line and long range."

"This review is really all about wanting to lower the cost of the war when the veterans come back from Iraq and Afghanistan," said William Rider Jr., president of the La Jolla-based American Combat Veterans of War. "I think certain people in the administration and Congress see veterans as a very large expense every year and they hate it."

But with the VA facing a $2.6 billion shortfall in the coming year, and with the dramatic increase in PTSD cases, other analysts say the government has to do an audit. The Sun-Herald of Biloxi, Miss. reported earlier this month that a recent audit by the Veterans Affairs inspector general of 2,100 randomly selected PTSD cases found that 25 percent lacked the proper documentation.

"The Department of Defense is being eaten out of house and home by health care costs," [Dan Goure, a senior defense analyst at the Lexington Institute] said. "More retirees are going with military medicine, Congress is allowing more National Guard and reservists to enter [the VA system] and the costs are rising. You have to say if you are going to have this kind of ballooning in PTSD benefits, a review is appropriate."

In an interview in early October with The Washington Post, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson said that of the 400,000 troops that have been to Iraq and Afghanistan, 103,000 have been treated in a VA facility. Of that 103,000, he said, 12 percent have been treated for PTSD.

In an editorial for the liberal/progressive truthout.org website, Gene C. Gerard pointed to a study by Col. Charles W. Hoge, M.D., the chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Institute, published in the June 2004 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study concluded that close to 20 percent of soldiers who served in Iraq, and approximately 12 percent of those who served in Afghanistan returned home suffering from PTSD. The study found that there is a clear correlation between combat experience and the prevalence of PTSD. The study determined that, "Rates of PTSD were significantly higher after combat duty in Iraq."
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1018/dailyUpdate.html?s=rss

Looks like Rummy got his cheap war.
 
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