DOD answers criticism, says armor refunds well-publicized
WASHINGTON — A Connecticut senator says the Pentagon isn’t doing enough to help troops get refunds for armor and other gear they bought before deployment, but defense officials say they have no plans to change the program.
Last October, after orders from Congress, the Defense Department released guidelines for reimbursement for body armor, helmets, and other protection gear for troops who were not issued the items before deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Democrat Christopher Dodd thinks that few troops know about the program because of poor publicity by military officials. Aides say he has heard from several servicemembers confused about the paperwork and filing process who have given up on getting their money back.
The Associated Press reported Jan. 24 that just 29 soldiers had sought reimbursement for gear under the program. Marine Corps officials said only four of their servicemembers have received refunds so far, although they could not say how many have filed claims since the program’s start in October.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week, Dodd called the handling of the reimbursements “inadequate” and “discouraging.” He asked for all troops to be shown how to file refund claims by their unit commanders upon leaving the combat zone.
But defense officials dismissed the idea.
“It has already been disseminated to our leadership and sent down to the unit commanders, who then talk to their teams about it,” said Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Jay Delarosa. “So we’re getting the word out. We’re not going to force them to do it a certain way.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said refund information has been made widely available, through multiple agencies and by both personnel and public affairs channels.
She also disagreed with a suggestion in Dodd’s letter that troops not be required to turn in equipment when they receive the refund.
“Once the government pays for items, they become the property of the government,” she said. “If we allow servicemembers to retain the equipment, we would not only be giving away government property but potentially encouraging servicemembers to keep and use equipment that does not meet (our) rigorous safety standards.”
Delarosa said gear such as body armor could potentially be used by Marines preparing for deployment, so allowing returning troops to keep the items could potentially cause supply problems.
Still, Dodd said repossessing the armor discourages servicemembers from applying for the reimbursement, especially if they think they might be asked to deploy overseas again in the future.
Earlier this month, the department expanded the October list of reimbursable items to include insect repellant, knee pads and other personal gear, and widened the eligibility guidelines to include gear bought between Sept. 11, 2001, and April 1, 2006.
Troops can receive up to $1,100 per item, as long as they can provide receipts justifying the costs. They have until Oct. 3 to file for the refunds.