ARLINGTON, Va. — Talk about adding insult to injury, said one U.S. Congressman.
Troops wounded in combat in the nation’s war on terrorism are being handed more than just discharge papers when they leave military hospitals — some also are getting a bill.
At a daily rate of $8.10, hospitalized troops, including those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being charged for their meals.
“I was amazed. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it,” said Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, who has introduced a bill to repeal what he calls an “offensive” law.
“Some things don’t meet the common-sense test, and this is one of them,” said a soldier injured in Iraq in June, and who has received two meal bills, one for $24.30 from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and a second for more than $300 from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
“It’s not a good precedent to have when a servicemember, having received wounds in Iraq, to see the first correspondence from his government after he gets out is a bill to pay for the hospital stay,” said the 16-year Army veteran, who asked his name not be used for fear of reprisal.
The law now in effect was set in place to prevent troops from double-dipping, said Lt. Col. Rose-Ann Lynch, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“Deployments aside, if any servicemember is in a military hospital, they are getting meals paid for by the military. If they were regularly collecting BAS, Basic Allowance for Subsistence — the monies received monthly for personal subsistence — they are obligated to pay for the hospital meals. If the servicemember is not receiving BAS, they will not be charged for the meals.
“In a nutshell, a servicemember cannot receive the meal and the money, too,” Lynch said.
Enlisted troops have the fee automatically deducted from their paychecks, while officers have to visit hospital cashiers and pay their meal ticket out of pocket, said Bill Swisher, a spokesman at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where approximately 1,250 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom have been treated since the war began.
To make a point about their objection, Young and his wife, Beverly, recently paid the $210.60 hospital from the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for a Marine Corps reservist who lost part of his foot during a recent deployment in which, according to Young, a 10-year-old Iraqi dropped a grenade in the staff sergeant’s Humvee.
“We paid the bill, and when we did, we reminded the hospital commander we did it.
“But I have to tell you … they don’t like to have to do it. In fact, they’re almost embarrassed to present a bill to the wounded troops,” Young said during an interview.
Young’s proposed legislation, which he said he hopes to tack on to the 2004 Defense spending bill now in conference as the House and Senate work out differences, would amend the current law to prohibit charging servicemembers who are hospitalized as a result of being injured or wounded while in combat or training for combat, Young said.
Military hospitals have been charging officers for their food since 1958. Enlisted members have had to pay the tab since 1981.
“No one wants to see these men and women have to write a check for their hospital stay, least of all the staff of our nation’s military hospitals,” Young said. “We should be honoring and thanking those in uniform for their service to the cause of peace and freedom, not billing them for their food.
“And we should be doing all we can to help them recover from their injuries, not ask them to write a check to the U.S. Government.”