Committee OKs bill to stop hospital meal charges
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would stop the Pentagon’s practice of charging meals to troops hospitalized because of wounds or injuries as a result of fighting the nation’s battles.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., spearheaded the measure and asked two fellow senators, members of the powerful appropriations committee, to submit on his behalf the bill that would waive charging troops meals when they are hospitalized for illnesses or wounds suffered in combat.
Deployed servicemembers who collect the monthly Basic Allowance for Subsistence are charged daily rates of $8.10 for their meals when hospitalized, to guard against troops double-dipping, officials have said.
But the BAS, a set rate based on military grade, sometimes doesn’t cover the full meal bill. One Army major, for example, recently collected a $168 monthly BAS, but upon discharge from the hospital after recovering from wounds sustained in Iraq, had to pay a $243 bill for his meals during that month.
The bill, if passed by the full Senate, the House of Representatives and signed by the president, would waive the charge and still let troops collect their full BAS.
“It’s all of $8.10 a day. It’s more the indignity of it,” said Paul Anderson, Graham’s spokesman, adding it’s a bill the government should be able to foot. In fiscal 2002, military hospitals billed servicemembers $1.5 million for meals.
Double-dipping aside, the system must change in order to properly honor troops, Graham, also a presidential candidate, said in a statement.
“This is a significant step toward ending the reprehensible practice of sending a bill for meals to a man or woman in uniform as soon as they leave the hospital — often on crutches or in a wheelchair,” Graham said. “When soldiers have made such a sacrifice, they shouldn’t be asked to pay for the meals they ate in the hospital.”
The bill, S.1622, is tacked onto the $87 billion supplemental budget the Pentagon is seeking from Congress to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have every expectation that it will remain in the bill since it has bipartisan support and tremendous logic behind it,” Anderson said.
“We added illness because of the recent reports of malaria Marines came down with in Liberia,” Anderson said.
Fifty-four Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit sent into Liberia for peacekeeping operations were hospitalized due to malaria. As a result of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly 13,000 troops have been hospitalized, with roughly 80 percent from illnesses, Anderson said.
Congress recently passed a bill submitted by Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which for one year would eliminate the charge, and only covered troops injured in the combat zone. Wednesday, President Bush signed off on the Pentagon’s overall spending bill.
“Young’s … bill is for a one-year waiver of the meal charge,” Anderson said. “Graham hopes we can make this a permanent situation.”