It's easy sometimes to think of the Pentagon's black holes of “lost” equipment and “missing” trillions of dollars as victimless accounting screw-ups. They aren't.
Take the issue of wounded soldiers' pay. More than 20,000 wounded soldiers have been evacuated from Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and most who are hospitalized are entitled to special pay. For starters, the Pentagon says these injured soldiers receive an extra $225 a month while hospitalized. But a flawed tracking and payment system is not getting these entitlements to a large percentage of the injured soldiers. The result: Many soldiers are unable to pay their bills, according to a recent Army audit.
A March 2005 report on an audit by the 106th Finance Battalion of 123 Operation Iraqi Freedom injured soldiers' pay is shocking. The soldiers were collectively shorted a total of over $24,000 in a sample of three entitlements examined by the audit team. The government errors created a total of $77,000 in debt for the soldiers, most of it amassed while they were patients at Landstuhl Regional Army Center or Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Overall, 82 percent of the soldiers involved in the audit had significant errors in pay, according to the audit report by Captain Michael J. Hurst.
“There is no reason to believe these problems are unique to the division involved in the study,” Hurst concluded.
It's a sad statement that the Army can't even get a paycheck to the soldiers who most need it. Hurst recommends a more comprehensive audit of 3,000 to 4,000 wounded soldiers, and is working for Congressional investigations and hearings that could lead to a reform of the flawed pay system.