GAO report: Some Army troops unpaid for weeks, denied medical care
WASHINGTON — Army National Guard soldiers activated to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan are plagued with pay-and-benefits problems and even denial of medical care to those wounded, auditors reported.
Investigators from the General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, tracked Guardsmen who weren’t paid in months, were told to repay debts they hadn’t incurred or told they didn’t qualify for medical care, according to a report released Thursday titled “Military Pay: Army National Guard Personnel Mobilized to Active Duty Experienced Significant Pay Problems.”
“This is not just a ‘significant’ rate of error; it’s a virtual system meltdown of a critical support function,” Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., vice chairman of House Government Reform Committee said during a news conference, held in lieu of a congressional hearing, he said.
Defense officials agreed with the GAO’s 25 recommendations for change, of which 22 are immediate patches but not a “cure,” said Gregory Kutz, lead author of the report. The two long-term plans to revamp the entire system, in which thousands of defense programs don’t communicate, will take years and millions of dollars.
In the seven units studied last year, 94 percent of troops experienced at least one personnel-related problem, Kutz said. But the reported result “understates the problem,” Kutz said, because many of the soldiers experienced multiple problems.
• In an attempt to correct overpayments made to 34 soldiers from Colorado’s 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces, finance officials instead inadvertently billed an average of $48,000 each, or a “largely erroneous total debt of over $1.6 million,” the report states.
• Four soldiers from Virginia’s 20th Special Forces were denied medical care for wounds sustained while in Afghanistan because their orders were not processed.
• A Virginia guardsman deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 as the lead engineer for security measures, pulling double duty because the unit’s finance clerk was not mobilized, found that fellow servicemembers were not paid for weeks at a time.
The soldier, who spoke Thursday at the news conference but asked that his name not be used because he is Special Forces, devised a tracking system that unearthed several problems within the unit.
“In a couple of more severe cases, we experienced problems that threw soldiers into turmoil that affected their pay for months,” said the 40-year-old sergeant first class. “During mobilizations, it was a busy and hectic time for everyone involved, but it is inexcusable that it should take six weeks for someone to draw their first paycheck.”
The Pentagon responded with a one-page letter that read, in part: “We are taking concrete steps to fix these problems and are seeking instances where other units and individuals may have experienced similar problems and fixing them as well.”
GAO investigators analyzed pay records for Guardsmen from the following states and units: Mississippi’s 114th Military Police Company, deployed to U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; California’s 49th Military Police Detachment, sent to Fort Lewis, Wash.; Virginia’s 20th Special Forces, deployed to Afghanistan; Maryland’s 200th Military Police Company, assigned to the Pentagon; Colorado’s 19th Special Forces, deployed to Afghanistan; West Virginia’s 19th Special Forces, deployed to Afghanistan; and Colorado’s 220th Military Police Company, deployed to Iraq.