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ARLINGTON, Va. — Troops hospitalized from wounds or illnesses received in a combat zone no longer will have to pay for their hospital meals. And those who have done so during past few years can expect a refund check.

Congress and the White House have agreed on a new law that exempts some hospitalized troops from paying the $8.10 a day for meals, even while collecting their Basic Allowance for Subsistence.

The new provision, included in the $87.5 billion supplemental to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, applies to troops wounded, injured or who become ill while in combat or hazardous duty.

The provision is retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, but procedures still are being developed to determine how troops who paid for their meals will be compensated, defense officials said.

When deployed and not required to eat at a chow hall or meals supplied by the military, such as Meals Ready to Eat, troops receive BAS — money in their regular paychecks paid monthly for personal subsistence.

Military hospitals have been charging officers who collect the BAS for their food since 1958, and enlisted members since 1981 under laws that went into affect to avoid double dipping of getting both the BAS and free hospital food, officials have said. If servicemembers were not getting BAS, they were not charged for the hospital meals.

However, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and principal in introducing the bill in Congress, said in a recent interview that in spite of laws to prevent troops from double dipping, he found it “offensive” that troops injured in war were required to pay for their hospital meals, and that the government should be able to afford to pay the costs in light of the troops’ “sacrifices.”

In fiscal 2002, military hospitals billed servicemembers $1.5 million for meals.

With officials still researching hospital records, the best estimate on a tally for the reimbursements to troops ranges from $300,000 to $600,000, said James Turner, a Pentagon spokesman.

And the department is doing its best to alert military treatment facilities to the change, he said.

“DOD guidance had been sent to military hospitals to stop charging for subsistence for active-duty members,” Turner said. “If affected troops are still charged as an oversight, [the] member should reference the change in law and not pay.”

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