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Enlistment Bonuses for Soldiers Who Are Discharged Because of Combat Injuries:

A press release from Sen. John Thune's office reports that the policy I discussed and faulted here last month may be about to change:

[The just-enacted] S.2400, the Wounded Warrior Bonus Equity Act ... would end the policy of the military to demand combat-wounded service personnel give back a portion of the enlistment bonuses they receive because they are unable to serve out their commitments due to their combat-related injury....

Current Department of Defense policy states that service personnel who have been medically discharged due to a wound sustained in combat have not fulfilled their full term of service, and therefore must return a portion of the bonus they received when they enlisted. The Wounded Warrior Bonus Equity Act would end this ... and require that bonuses be paid in full when service personnel are disabled in combat. In addition, the bill would require the Secretary of Defense to identify the soldiers to be paid retroactively, and determine the amounts to be paid to each soldier through a financial audit.

Sen. Thune was a cosponsor of the bill. Sen. Thune's office reports that a House version of the bill is likely to be passed tonight.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Enlistment Bonuses for Soldiers Who Are Discharged Because of Combat Injuries:
  2. "Wounded Soldier: Military Wants Part Of [Enlistment] Bonus Back":
VincentPaul (mail):
Thank God.
12.17.2007 6:17pm
common sense (www):
And what took this long?
12.17.2007 6:27pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Now all they need to do is extend this to all service members injured while training or otherwise on the job. A soldier who gets injured pushing himself on the obstacle course shouldn't have to pay back thousands of dollars.

A few might abuse this, but that's a price worth paying.
12.17.2007 7:01pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
The current policy is the result of beancounters busy looking over their shoulders. Without having to think of the bigger picture, they focus on the small one: Congress will get all over their *sses if they're seen to be 'wasting' money.

Sometimes, I'd swear that the government spends more money in CYA operations than it does in carrying out its legislated mandates.

But it starts with a Congress that is quick to find any sort of hay that can be spun into political gold.
12.17.2007 8:42pm
ruddiger:

A bit of background, from when the story originally ran:

"As a retired military officer, I have no doubt that the letter was a mistake. And, I have no reason to believe that the Army isn't trying to rectify the situation.

[...]

"The military, like the rest of the federal government, operates under personnel and compensation rules that are, at times, obtuse, confusing and even contradictory. Making matters worse, many of these databases can't share information, due to the Privacy Act or technical problems.

[...]

"Based on our experience, it will probably take an act of Congress (or an Executive Order) to straighten out this mess, and keep it from happening again. Left to its own devices, the bureaucracy may fix Mr. Fox's problem, but there's no guarantee that the Army's computers won't keep churning out refund letters to other wounded combat vets. Consistent pressure from above is the only thing that will solve this problem, once and for all."
12.17.2007 9:00pm
Dave N (mail):
I agree with Public Defender. If a service related injury causes an enlistment to end prematurely, let that person keep the money--it is small payment for being willing to serve in the first place.
12.17.2007 9:22pm
SJE:
I am glad for this. I am sure that some will also be pleased as it also this frees us up to focus on the pressing need of ensuring that civilians use correct mixture of capitalization when refering to their rank.
12.17.2007 10:09pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
This is simple political grandstanding. As the Army has been pointing out to anybody who will listen, the letter was sent out by mistake -- and anybody who knows the military knows that such mistakes are trivial and common. If Congress decides to pass a new law every time the military bureaucracy sends out an incorrect letter, we will never have to worry about them dealing with anything else.

Of course, folk with an axe to grind against the military will continue to insist that this was really policy and that the Army really wants this money from this one soldier.

In particular, the Army stated on 21 Nov that:

"Soldiers who become ill or are wounded while on active duty are entitled to keep all recruitment bonuses due them.

The Army reiterated that policy today, after a Wounded Soldier inadvertently received a letter from the Army that stated he would be required to pay back any enlistment money he received.

"If you are ill or were injured while on duty, the Army will not ask you to repay any portion of your recruitment bonus," said Brig. Gen. Mike Tucker, assistant surgeon general for Warrior Care and Transition. 'This money will stay in the hands of our Soldiers.' "
12.17.2007 10:28pm
REPEAL 16-17 (mail):
Only bureaucrats could screw up an issue like this. This legislation is a no-brainer. Soldiers who get hurt in the line of duty should not be punished for sacrificing their bodies for their country.
12.17.2007 10:53pm
Russ (mail):
"A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterward."

- Theodore Roosevelt
12.17.2007 11:16pm
EH (mail):

If a service related injury causes an enlistment to end prematurely, let that person keep the money--it is small payment for being willing to serve in the first place.


There should be some checks in place so that recruiters don't bribe unfit enlistees with protected bonuses in order to inflate enlistment numbers.
12.17.2007 11:41pm
Public_Defender (mail):
There should be some checks in place so that recruiters don't bribe unfit enlistees with protected bonuses in order to inflate enlistment numbers.

Agreed, but the bias should be not to require a bonus refund. I'd rather pay out my tax dollars to a few service members who don't deserve them than have a few who deserve the money go without.

And sorry for the clunkiness of that sentence.
12.18.2007 5:12am
William Oliver (mail) (www):
"Only bureaucrats could screw up an issue like this. This legislation is a no-brainer."

Actually, it's just the opposite -- this legislation will make it more likely that something like this will happen. This was a bureaucratic error, not policy. It happened to one person, not ten thousand. What this legislation will do is add a few more compliance documents, a few more checklists, and a few more bureaucratic steps to the process. In other words, it will add to the byzantine maze that caused the problem.

Only Congress would think that increasing red tape will solve the problem of too much red tape.

You're right. It's a no-brainer.
12.18.2007 8:18am
longwalker (mail):
There is no policy that required that military personnel, given early discharges because of service-connected disability, repay their bonuses. The bonus regulations, since their inception, allowed for military personnel, being discharged early for service connected disabilities, to keep the full amount of their bonuses.

I am a veteran, listed as service-connected disabled. I have served as a NYS Veterans Counselor for 14 years, I have been both a County Service Officer and registered represenative for the American Legion and a registered represenative for the Veteran's of Foreign Wars during most of those 14 years.

Please spend as much time researching such stories as this one as you would devote to other legal issues. BTW, I have a JD and worked, as an attorney, for NYS until I retired.
12.18.2007 11:16am
wfjag:
William Oliver:


"This was a bureaucratic error, not policy. It happened to one person, not ten thousand. What this legislation will do is add a few more compliance documents, a few more checklists, and a few more bureaucratic steps to the process. In other words, it will add to the byzantine maze that caused the problem."


It's probably not even a bureaucratic error. Upon discharge from any military service, a discharge code is entered identifying the type and circumstances of the discharge. This information is transmitted to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which processes pay actions, including final pay and benefits due, and recoupments. A medical discharge due to service connected disability code should have blocked the initiation of a recoupment action. Granted, it's not nearly as dramatic story when a wrong computer code is entered, that generates a form letter that doesn't apply to the facts, so that the remedy is to correct the erroneous computer code entry and recall the erroneous form letter.

You are right, however. In response to any mistake, lawyers, including most members of Congress, react with "there ought to be a law!", overlooking the obvious answer that there likely already is a law, but, for some reason (usually not a nefarious one) that was not correctly applied.
12.18.2007 12:00pm
r78:
Wasn't this a matter of contract?

If the enlistees don't fulfill the conditions required to get the bonus, I don't see why they should receive it.
12.18.2007 2:28pm
PersonFromPorlock:

If the enlistees don't fulfill the conditions required to get the bonus, I don't see why they should receive it.

So, what has your mother done for you lately?
12.18.2007 2:44pm
Smokey:
They need to make it retroactive.
12.18.2007 2:52pm
SJE:
The posts raise many good points. I am unclear on how many people these letters affected. One person says one. I had heard of a few. Can someone get me actual numbers?

Nevertheless, even though this was due a bureacratic/computer error, and only affected a few, it got a lot of media and congressional attention. Perhaps it was an over-reaction. I would suggest, however, that people reacted so strongly because they have been given so much recent evidence of service members getting poorly treated by the DOD. In other words, if the government was generally regarded as doing right by our military men and women, people would probably be content to have regarded this as an isolated incident.
12.18.2007 3:39pm
longwalker (mail):
One more time!

The Regulations of all five branches of the service provide and always have provided that service personnel discharged early due to service connected disability do not have to return any part of their bonuses.

It does not matter whether their disability is combat or non-combat related. If the disability was line of duty, the dischargee gets to keep all of the bonus.

As to those commenters and their remarks about "recent evidence of service members getting poorly treated by the DOD." I would like to have some facts about the "poor treatment" allegedy given our service members.
12.18.2007 5:22pm
Eli Rabett (www):
There were a few dozen other sponsors.

Jeff Sessions R-AL was the chief sponsor in the Senate. Co-sponsors include
Sen. Robert Casey [D, PA]
Sen. Hillary Clinton [D, NY]
Sen. Byron Dorgan [D, ND]
Sen. Frank Lautenberg [D, NJ]
Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT]
Sen. Mel Martinez [R, FL]
Sen. John McCain [R, AZ]
Sen. Bernard Sanders [I, VT]
Sen. Jim Webb [D, VA]
Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR]

Thune appears to have a better FAX list.
12.18.2007 6:34pm
wfjag:
longwalker:

I believe I can provide several examples of "recent evidence of service members getting poorly treated by the DOD." You will recall the various scandals concerning the horrible medical hold barracks a couple of years ago, leading to the relief (called a "retirement") of the Commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I'm sitting across the street from a renovation of some old barracks so that the Medical Holding Company on this post will be decent -- not great, but a whole lot better than the Roach Motel the troops had to endure up until several months ago.

Still, when talking about "DoD" it's easy to forget that DoD's budget and appropriations are first proposed by the President and enacted by Congress. And, it usually takes about 10 years for the projects to go through the process of proposal, review, drafting, authorization, appropriation, letting of contracts, completion, acceptance, etc. Pretty much the scandals referred to above were the product of the Clinton Administration's budget proposals, as enacted by a Republican controlled Congress. The GWOT got things moving along to change that, especially after the severe embarrassment to the Bush Administration and a Republican controlled Congress caused by the afore-mentioned scandals.

Now, we have the Bush Administration and a Democrat controlled Congress. Consider what is now going on:
The $516 Billion omnibus appropriations bill is now being considered by the Senate, to which another $40 Billion will be added to fund continuing operations in Iraq (the House having already agreed to $31 Billion for operations in Afghanistan, but the House Leadership cannot add funding for operations in Iraq -- except in a Joint House-Senate Conference behind closed doors -- due to certain "interest groups" of interest to the House Leadership -- "move-on" there little Doggies.). The omnibus appropriations bill includes some 8,983 such "earmarks" worth $7.4 Billion, which Taxpayers for Common Sense calls "pork barrel projects" To fund these "earmarks" and keep the appropriation within the limits that the President would not veto (likely disrupting the Holiday break for our elected representatives) and not be filibustered or otherwise tied up by procedural moves by members of Congress who are at least giving lip homage to fiscal restraint, most of the money for the earmarks was obtained by transferring funds from military construction authorizations (about $6 Billion according to the last report I saw).

So, if projects to benefit don't get funded, be sure to blame "DoD" again. Doesn't it write the laws, propose the budget and appropriate the funds? Things really don't seem to change. See:

Tommy


I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o'beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez, "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:

O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away";
But it's ``Thank you, Mister Atkins,'' when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it's ``Thank you, Mr. Atkins,'' when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but 'adn't none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-'alls,
But when it comes to fightin', Lord! they'll shove me in the stalls!

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, wait outside";
But it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide,
The troopship's on the tide, my boys, the troopship's on the tide,

O it's "Special train for Atkins" when the trooper's on the tide.
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy how's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,

O it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.
You talk o' better food for us, an' schools, an' fires an' all:
We'll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don't mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow's Uniform is not the soldier-man's disgrace.

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
But Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!

From Barrack Room Ballads (1892) by Rudyard Kipling


Yes, DoD is to blame, since our elected reps all know that "Nothing -- is too good for our men and women who serve in our armed forces."
12.18.2007 6:43pm
SJE:
I must make a clarificationin view of Longwalker's comments: when I meant affected, I meant that they recieved the letters and reasonably believed that they did have to return the $ and/or acted on this belief, whether or not they were ultimately forced to give back the bonus. As someone who deals with the Federal bureaucracy on a daily basis, I can attest that fixing a mistake by a govt department can take a lot of time and money, more than just an "inconvenience."

As for Longwalker's request that we provide information about poor treatment of service members by the DOD and government generally: where do I start?
Perhaps Walter Reed.
How about inadequate equipment, training and support in theater?
For example,just out today, the recent finding that the M4 carbine performed worst of all competing weapons in a rigorous "dust" test performed at Aberdeen, and a long history of complaints. The Army's continues to insist that it is the best weapon, and refuses to consider alternatives. Who is the Army interested in: the lives of soldiers, or protecting one particular manufacturer? See Military.com
12.18.2007 6:56pm
SJE:
wfjag makes a good point: there is plenty of blame to go around.
12.18.2007 6:59pm
William Oliver (mail) (www):
So, the many examples of broad policy-based poor treatment of the troops by the DoD turns out to be one aging building on the Walter Reed Campus. Perhaps someone should mention the quality of *medical treatment* received at Walter Reed.

The claim that the US military does not have adequate materiel is fatuous. It is the best equipped, best maintained, and best trained military in the world.
12.18.2007 7:45pm
SJE:
The problems of treatment of patients are well known to extend beyond one bad building at Walter Reed. I recommend you see articles by the Washington Post.

Regarding the oft-repeated assertions that the US military is the best equipped, maintained and trained military in the world: such a broad statement is irrelevant to assertions of specific defects. It seems that the love of shiny new high tech solutions (especially beloved of Congress) masks deficiencies in other areas. If you cannot find a service member to comment about body armor, particular weapons, and the new camoflague, you can always look on the military blogs. As for the M16 and M4 rifles: these are very old technology, and have been the subject of complaints for a long time. Then you have actual evidence, from Army tests, that other guns are more reliable. I know which gun I would rather have.
12.18.2007 11:44pm
longwalker (mail):
Regarding Walter Reed : The building in question was unoccupied and scheduled to be demolished. There was "piss poor prior planning" in the reactivation of the building. Insufficient attention was given to the possibility of rat, mice and insect infestration and the building was put into operation before maintenance stafing was completed.

I served on active duty for nine years, 1956 to 1965. During that time I lived in pre-WWI barracks, a wooden floored tent and, for my last three years, a brand new brick building. My pre-WWI barracks for basic training was in the old Fort Dix stockade. A Federal judge had found the barracks were "cruel and unusual" and ordered the Army to move the prisoners into better quarters.

The barracks were two story wood buildings and held, at most, thirty-two prisoners. The prisoners would not cooperate and the toilets were always stopped up as well as the drains in the shower room.

After the prisoners were removed, holes were cut in the stockade fence and my basic training company moved in. We slept ninety men to a building and won a "Best Barracks" award during our fourth week of training.

As to weapons and equipment, I bitched also. It was our favorite occupation.

Our field gear was poorly designed for its function, our radios were weak and the batteries did not last long. The British Bren gun, which I fired while attached to a British Army unit, was more accurate than either the automatic rifle or the M-14M.

The German Army had better radios and gas and radiation detection equipment, the list goes on. However, if properly maintained, our equipment was good enough if not perfect.

Before you go for perfect, read Arthur C. Clark's short story on the subject.
12.19.2007 6:51am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Any bureaucracy is capable of stupid mistakes, but I still scratch my head at some of these mistakes.

CNN had a report a while back about combat-injured soldiers, one of whom was denied compensation for what the letter described as "shrapnel throughout his body" claiming that it wasn't a service-related injury. Huh? Even better: when they received the letter, the soldier claimed that the signature block had been cut out of the letter--almost like someone was ashamed of this letter that the VA was sending.
12.19.2007 10:06am
longwalker (mail):
In 14 years dealing with the VA, I saw many examples such as Mr. Cramer relates.

It was not VA policy but could be traced to poorly trained entry level clerks.

My job was to represent the claimant and let the VA know, through the appeals procedure, where it had erred. I found that once I brought a matter to the adjudicators, the problem would be solved.

You should not be supprised to know that not everyone employed by the VA as entry level clerks has a command of the English language greater than a graduate student. I know many people who could not tell you what "shrapnel" meant.

Most mistakes made by either the VA or the Social Security Administration are caused by entry level clerks who make decisions beyond their authority without checking with a supervisor.
12.19.2007 11:55am
wfjag:
longwalker:

You also might want to elaborate on the effects of the "uniformed services"* having different disability determination standards than the VA, although not infrequently using the same terms. With 14 years experience I suspect you've seen the effects of that any number of times. It has been proposed that one set of standards be adopted for all of the uniform services' disability determinations and the VA, so that the person only has to go through the process once.

I suspect that you have the knowledge and experience to explain what a Rube Goldberg process it is. Educating others might help lead to beneficial changes, rather than adding additional bureaucratic levels.

* use of the term "uniformed services" is because some of the uniformed services, like the Coast Guard, are not within DoD.
12.19.2007 4:33pm
longwalker (mail):
In my 14 years, I never found the different disability standards much of a problem. The standards of the uniformed services and the VA do differ because the reasons behind the standards are different. Also, in many cases, the standards are set by statute. IIRC, I never had a case in which the different disability standards were an issue. I would be inclined to believe that, if a person was claiming that the difference in disability standards was the problem, that person does not understand the process.

The basic VA process is not a "Rube Goldberg" process. If, and this is the major problem, the claim is properly filed and there is no missing paperwork, the claim will be quickly adjudicated and benefits awarded. The vast majority of all claims are so handled. In some cases, there is a problem - usually missing documents or the misreading of existing documents, in these cases I advise the assistance of a registered represenative from a service organization to investigate and correct the problem.

The major problem with the VA today, is that the claims of recently discharged service personnel, thankfully few in number, is dwarfed by the late filing of claims by veterans going back as far as WWII, Korea and Vietnam. After years of prodding by other veterans, service organizations and the VA, these older veterans started to file in the 1990's and are still filing. If the older veterans had filed when they were discharged or shortly thereafter, there would not be this backlog of old claims in the processing procedure.

These claims, since the time between service and claim is so great, take longer to process and, in most cases, require extensive investigation and adjudication. If all the VA had to do was process the claims of recently discharged service personnel, there would be no backlog and the time required to get a determination would be cut in half or better.
12.20.2007 6:24am