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2007-12-13 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Enlistment Bonus Snafu Is Ultimate Insult To Wounded Warriors
By Neil S. Friedman

By Neil S. Friedman

Imagine, if you will, the United States Army enticing you, your son or a nephew or niece - some relative or friend - to enlist for a modest ($10,000 or less) bonus to be used for whatever the heart desires after military service is finished. There is, however, one downside - and a risky one at that. More than likely the recruit will be required to serve some duty in a combat zone, be it Iraq or Afghanistan.

While the individual mulls the offer, the recruitment officer hints at temptations and promises of an opportunity "to see the world." (Recruiters, mind you, are nothing more than uniformed salespeople who only paint rosy images of life in the armed services without alluding to its shortcoming - like you may never get to spend the bonus if you become a casualty of war or return with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] from combat experience.)

So, the person signs on the dotted line and commits to three or more years of service to the good ol' USA. However, before the tour of duty is fulfilled, the individual is wounded and transported stateside to Walter Reed Army Hospital for recovery and rehabilitation. (Not exactly the kind of R&R guaranteed when you signed up for the hitch.) After weeks or months of little or no TLC, the patient is dismissed, hoping to resume as close to a normal civilian life as possible.

A few weeks later, the veteran is, to say the least, surprised when a succinct, tersely-worded letter and a bill from the Department of Defense arrives, requesting that, since the mandatory term of enlistment was incomplete, a pro-rated piece of the bonus bucks must be returned!

That may sound preposterous, but it is NOT a figment of my imagination!

Though it reportedly came and went before you know what hit the fan, the Army apparently had the audacity to try and recoup a portion of enlistment bonuses paid to a few hundred wounded soldiers who, due to combat injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan, could not finish their tours of duty.

The outrageous episode cropped up about a month ago when New York Senator Charles Schumer's office received a call from an upstate GI - partially blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq - who had told the media that the Army informed him they wanted him to return more than a third of the bonus he was paid because his enlistment commitment was shortened by a combat injury.

The vet likely thought it was an out-of-season April Fool's or dumb practical joke - but it wasn't!

No sooner did Schumer learn of the dilemma than he proposed legislation to guarantee a wounded warrior's enlistment incentive could not be reduced. Senator Hillary Clinton planned to introduce a bill that would require remaining bonuses to be paid in full within 30 days of discharge. Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives.

It'd be shocking - no, shameful - if any legislator votes "Nay," if and when these bills come up for consideration. Those who do should be removed from office and perhaps asked to return a portion of his/her salary.

When the news of the embarrassment snowballed, an Army spokesperson called it an "anomaly...It doesn't pass the common sense test." (Ya think?) The Army, he said, would conduct a review to determine how the snafu occurred and assured "it's going to be corrected."

Corrected? How about taking the idiots responsible and putting them on the next plane to Iraq or Afghanistan?

As a veteran, I learned there are three ways the Army does things - the right way, the wrong way and the Army way. Naturally, the latter usually makes the least sense.

Subsequent reports said the initial story was misleading and the reporter never sought clarification on what was merely bureaucratic confusion. But, if that was the case, why did the Army spokesperson call it an anomaly and vow to it correct it?

Whether or not there was some red tape glitch somewhere in the vast Pentagon maze has yet to be determined. Regardless, it's military madness. How could anyone in the government even broach the concept of recouping a penny of enlistment bonuses from injured GIs, who deserve the utmost dignity and respect? Wasn't time spent in Iraq or Afghanistan enough? Did the Army have to pour salt in the wounds of soldiers who volunteered to put their lives on the line to defend their country?

Even if it was a bureaucratic mistake, it is still an insult to our troops! The Department of Defense should be required to send earnest letters of regret to every soldier asked to return part of the bonus.

Didn't anyone in the Army's administrative corps question this when this proposal came across their desk? They can't blame some lowly private for accidentally forwarding it. That's not the Army way. It would have to be approved up the chain of command.

Whoever is ultimately responsible for this dreadful mistake should be given KP (kitchen patrol) for a year! It is the ultimate insult to veterans, months after the shameful revelation that our wounded warriors have not been receiving the best of care at Water Reed Army Hospital.

How could anyone call this mess an anomaly? It's a damn disgrace!

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