Soldiers must return extra money received from DOD clerical mistake
January 15, 2005
ARLINGTON, Va. – Wait, don’t spend that cash! The couple hundred extra bucks 53,000 soldiers have seen or are about to see in their January paychecks is not a late Christmas present from Uncle Sam.
The extra money, which for most affected soldiers amounts to an additional $200 and $300 in their paychecks this month, is there because of a data input error made at the Defense Department’s joint Defense Finance and Accounting Service, according to Col. Kenneth Crowder, DFAS’ director of Army Pay Operations.
The error occurred when a DFAS employee was electronically updating the meal allowance rate for 2005 and accidentally backdated the change to 2004, Crowder said in a telephone interview with Stripes on Friday from his Indianapolis office.
As a result, the Defense Department’s pay computers decided that soldiers who have Army meal cards, but who are authorized for reimbursement for some meals, deserved a refund for 2004.
The refund shows up as “refund of BAS,” or Basic Allowance for Subsistence, in the “entitlements” column of a soldier’s Leave and Earning Statement, Crowder said.
The Army is required by law to collect the funds from any “administrative or technical error” back from soldiers in the same month the error was made, Crowder said.
That means that most of the soldiers affected by the glitch will have the money taken back from their last January paycheck.
However, while the money will be refunded to the Army in one chunk for the vast majority of affected soldiers who were overpaid by $200 to $300, Army officials are bending the rules a little for the 316 soldiers who saw refunds of $500, Crowder said.
Those individuals will get the money taken back in two installments, in order to “mitigate hardship” on soldiers who spent the money by mistake.
Army DFAS officials caught the error around Jan. 4, Crowder said.
But because the pay system is now joint, the mistake could not be immediately corrected “without interfering with the processing of every servicemember’s paycheck,” Crowder said.
Soldiers, like all servicemembers, can opt to be paid monthly, or twice each month. Most elect to receive their checks twice each month, although a few do go for the monthly option, service officials said.
So most soldiers have already seen half their faux “refund,” and the others will see it given and taken away in the same check at the end of the month, so in effect, “it will be a wash” on the bottom line, Crowder said.
To get the word out to soldiers not to spend the extra cash, DFAS officials sent an e-mail Jan. 12 to the Army Knowledge Online account of every soldier who got money in error, explaining the situation, Crowder said.
DFAS also sent a list of affected soldiers to every one of the Army’s defense military pay offices, asking officials there to check and see if any of their command’s soldiers are on the list.
If so, Crowder said, the pay office officials are supposed to contact the soldier’s commander and ask him or her to “contact each affected soldier individually.”
Meanwhile, any soldiers wondering if they were affected by the error also can call 1-800-MyPay and speak to a customer service technician, or go to www.mypay.dfas.mil for more information.