Saturday, November 24, 2007

Injustice in the line of duty

Stories like Iraq veteran Jordan Fox's are the reason the English language contains words like "Kafkaesque." This Army enlistee was seriously injured in Iraq by an improvised-explosive device detonation that left him blind in one eye and struggling with other serious injuries. While recuperating at home, a letter arrived from the Pentagon. It demanded that he repay $3,000 of his $10,000 enlistment bonus. The reason: He could not fulfill the remainder of his service.

The Pentagon has since corrected itself, claiming that the letter was sent in error. "We have seen where the problems have been made [in] the system," Maj. Nathan Banks told the Pennsylvania CBS affiliate that broke the story. The Pentagon was working hard to "make a wrong a right," he said. According to congressional aides who study the problem, the difficulty lies with error-prone coding systems.

Whatever is being done must not be working. This is an old problem. As far back as October 2004, Brian Ross of ABC News reported an analogous story. Army Spc. Tyson Johnson, who was badly injured by an exploding mortar round in Iraq, received a letter demanding repayment of his enlistment bonus while he was still recuperating in the hospital. In a more recent example, two months ago, National Public Radio reported on Army Spc. Ronald Hinkle, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an IED explosion cut short his military career. Not only was Spc. Hinkle owed $2,500 in back salary, but two months after NPR's story aired, he was notified that a $3,000 enlistment bonus would not be paid because he "failed to fulfill his contract" — by way of suffering serious injury in the line of duty.

Duncan Hunter is mentioned giving his opinion on "The Veterans' Guaranteed Bonus Act" in the last two paragraphs. (excerpt...see

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