ARLINGTON, Va. — Troops and their families who bought protective equipment before Iraq deployments might be able to collect reimbursements if Congress presses on despite Pentagon objections.

On Monday, the Senate passed by a 90-0 vote an amendment to its defense bill that would reimburse those who bought equipment such as flak vests that the Army, in particular, did not issue before deployment.

“American troops are bravely and valiantly giving their all on the battlefield. They shouldn’t have to also give by digging into their pockets to pay for protective gear,” Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who spearheaded the legislation, said in a statement. “This measure will help fix that by helping to ensure that our combat troops have the support and resources they need.”

Troops and their families, particularly those of National Guard and Reserve units, reportedly have paid between $300 and $1,100 for flak vests.

But the Pentagon opposes such a measure, mainly because it leaves the Defense Department unable to control what equipment troops might buy, said spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin.

“The DOD spends millions to test and procure the needed protective, safety, and health equipment for our servicemembers. The DOD will have no way of knowing what testing personally-procured items went through or whether the equipment is effective. It allows each individual to make those judgments rather than holding the Department accountable to provide for its members,” she said, citing the Pentagon’s position statement.

Other considerations, such as whether troops keep the gear or turn it in, need to be addressed, Irwin said.

“The department would be left with millions of dollars of nonstandard equipment to support with no logistics program in place for the nonstandard gear,” she said.

“Most importantly, this sets an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DOD with an open-ended financial burden,” Irwin said. “This amendment will encourage servicemembers and their loved ones to purchase equipment on their own outside this accountability with the expectation of receiving future reimbursement.”

Earlier this year, the Army boosted production of the Interceptor body armor, and in January, began sending 160,000 Interceptors to Iraq and Kuwait.

Interceptor vests are the Army’s best body armor. The $1,585 items are made of layered sheets of Kevlar with front and back pockets for ceramic plates.

Another solution was to have troops redeploying turn in their vests in Kuwait instead of taking them home, letting the Army reissue them to the inbound members.

The amendment, part of the 2005 Defense Authorization Bill, would cover expenses troops made between Sept. 11, 2001, and July 31, 2004, for Humvee protection; and from Sept. 11, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2003, for other equipment, according to a report by Knight Ridder Newspapers. Those are the periods in which the services could not guarantee Congress all troops were adequately equipped.

The measure is not in the House of Representatives defense bill. It would have to be settled in conference committee.

If both houses of Congress pass the measure, it still could be some time before troops see reimbursement dollars.

Check’s in the mail

In January, Congress passed a law requiring the Army to reimburse troops who paid their own way home as part of U.S. Central Command’s 15-day rest and recuperation program.

A Pentagon policy made reimbursements retroactive to Dec. 19, instead of the program’s Sept. 25 start date. So Congress drafted another measure, and in April, passed a bill to reimburse all troops who paid their own way. But the Army still is waiting on the Pentagon for instruction on how to carry out the reimbursements, spokesman Hank Minitrez said.

“We’re waiting on instruction from DOD on implementation instructions that basically tell the Army how and when to inform soldiers on what they need to do to get their money back,” Minitrez said. The Army is the program’s executive agent.

Central Command’s R&R program flies troops deployed on 12-month orders to Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan to the United States or Germany for a 15-day break.

On Tuesday, R&R program chartered flights resumed, which had been suspended in February as new U.S. forces began transitioning into theater to replace outbound troops.

Between February and June, troops flew out of Kuwait on commercial flights, and the program was scaled to roughly 80 to 90 troops leaving daily. With Tuesday’s resumption of chartered flights, that number is boosted to about 500.

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