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WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials this week issued long-overdue guidelines for reimbursing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who bought their own body armor and other protective gear before deploying overseas.

A memo released Thursday by Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu orders that the individual services pay back up to $1,100 per item to servicemembers who bought items such as ballistic vests, helmets or glasses, if they can show the equipment was not issued through military channels at their time of deployment.

After reimbursement, the equipment would become Defense Department property, and would have to be turned over to military officials, unless the items are “destroyed in combat or are otherwise no longer available for good reason.”

Congress last year ordered defense officials to develop guidelines for the equipment reimbursements, and had set a Feb. 25 deadline for it.

Last week, when Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., announced he would offer new legislative language to force the refunds, defense officials announced they were finalizing the details for the refund program.

Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said the delay arose as officials worked with the individual services and defense staff “to develop a straightforward implementing directive that complies with Congress’ intent, puts authority for most claims at the level of unit commanders, and treats servicemembers and former servicemembers fairly.”

To be eligible for the reimbursements, troops must not have received equivalent protective equipment from their unit and must have been deployed for Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Reimbursement for the items includes purchase and shipping costs, provided the buyer can provide receipts justifying the costs.

For example, soldiers who bought ballistic vest inserts for $200 and paid $20 for delivery of the items and saved their receipts will receive a full $220 refund from the Army. Without the receipts, however, the soldiers would be eligible for only the estimated cost of the inserts, which is $140 under the department’s pay guide.

In his memo Chu said the list of “shortage items” covered under the program may be expanded in the future, if the individual services ask for more equipment to be included.

On Wednesday night, the Senate added language to the 2006 Defense Appropriations bill mandating that the Defense Department add to the list or equipment close combat optics systems, global positioning system receivers, gun scopes and certain communications devices.

Dodd, who introduced the amendment, blasted the Pentagon for taking so long to implement the refund program and for failing to get the right equipment to all troops.

“Private purchases of critical gear are still occurring every day,” he said during debate on the amendment. “We owe it to our troops to make sure that they are adequately compensated for these purchases.”

Also Wednesday, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said he would work to include all troops who may have purchased body armor under the new program. Currently, the refunds are only available for purchase made between Sept. 10, 2001, and August 1, 2004 — the period sought by Congress.

Congressional officials said Defense Department representatives had testified in summer 2004 that the armor shortages problems would be fixed by August 2004, and the refund program should therefore be ended then to prevent abuse.

How to be reimbursed

Get a claim form:The DD-2902 form is available online here (in PDF format) The form can also be requested from commanding officers.

Get your receipts:Troops can be reimbursed for purchase and shipping costs if they saved their receipts. Otherwise, reimbursement will be limited to the department’s estimated costs.

Submit the forms:For current servicemembers, that means handing the paperwork to a field-grade commander in a unit. For those who have already separated, each service will designate an authorizing official.

Do it now:Troops only have until Oct. 4, 2006, to claim their reimbursement.

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