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WASHINGTON — Army officials said that 21 soldiers’ separation from the service is being delayed because of paperwork over lost gear, similar to the problem faced by a West Virginia soldier last week.

In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said that officials are working with those soldiers to find ways to simplify the process and reduce their frustration, in an effort not to repeat the problem faced by 1st Lt. William Rebrook IV.

Rebrook was wounded in January 2005 while in Iraq, and had his body armor tossed aside while he was airlifted to receive medical treatment. When the Army decided to medically retire him last month, he paid $700 to reimburse the Army for the missing armor in order to get out of the service.

The move prompted community groups to raise funds for the former soldier, and drew angry criticism from Congress about the Army’s gear policies.

On Tuesday, Schoomaker told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Rebrook had not been forced to pay the $700 to receive his discharge, but simply became frustrated with the pace of the bureaucracy and volunteered to pay.

He also said there were other pieces of gear Rebrook had been asked to account for, but could not because of his injuries and quick escort out of Iraq.

“[The payment] came out of frustration on his part,” Schoomaker told the senators. “That’s not to blame him. We’re proud of what he did and his service.”

Both Schoomaker and Army Secretary Francis Harvey said they are still looking for ways to better handle the mountains of paperwork involved in both the Rebrook case and the 21 other cases. Senators told them more needs to be done to help those soldiers.

“Of all the people who should be frustrated with the system, it’s these folks who are wounded,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

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