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Mideast edition, Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Roughly 56,000 servicemembers owe the Defense Department an estimated $25 million for failing to pay premiums for life insurance they didn’t realize they had.

And while the Pentagon is blaming the troops for the 5- year-old problem with the Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, a review by the U.S. Army Europe inspector general’s office appears to disagree.

Since its inception in 2001, enrollment in the program has been automatic for all military family members, as long as the servicemember is enrolled in Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance. As with SGLI, servicemembers have to decline FSGLI if they don’t want it, rather than sign up for it if they do.

“Despite a media campaign to alert [members] to the automatic enrollment, many members failed to update their dependent information, or reduce or decline coverage,” reads an information paper forwarded by Maj. Stewart Upton, a Defense Department spokesman, to Stars and Stripes following repeated queries for information about the program.

The information paper lists three news releases that were part of the media campaign; all were published in late 2001. The paper also lists three messages that appeared on all servicemembers’ pay statements between September and November 2001.

Two of the pay statement messages told servicemembers to update their dependent information with their personnel office. Though it’s not explicitly stated in the stories or messages, that dependent information is updated in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS.

When the referenced stories and messages appeared in base newspapers and on pay stubs in 2001, there was no requirement for dual-military couples to register each other in DEERS. Each member was — and still is — enrolled in DEERS in their own right.

None of the stories or messages explicitly directed dual-military couples — one of two groups blamed for the $25 million debt — to update their spousal information.

In 2002, the DOD changed a regulation to require dual-military couples to register each other in DEERS. That requirement wasn’t well known, according to an information paper distributed by the USAREUR inspector general’s office.

“When we conducted our research, we determined that it would probably be difficult for most soldiers to be aware of the fact” they are required to register their spouse in DEERS if they are in a dual-military marriage, the IG paper states.

The inspector general’s office found the requirement in two publications; one is a DOD regulation, the other an FSGLI Web site user manual. “These are not necessarily publications soldiers access on a regular basis,” the paper states.

Despite these remarks, the USAREUR memo concludes that the Army’s actions to recoup unpaid insurance premiums from soldiers are, in the opinion of the judge advocate general, “compulsory, mandated by law.”

Queries to the DOD and the Army for an explanation of the judge advocate general’s ruling were not answered.

Read the related story, Affected servicemembers owe an average of $446.

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