Wounded Soldiers’ Pay: A Financial Management Horror Story

For years the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Defense Inspector General have attempted, and failed, to audit the Pentagon’s books. The reports, while substantively horrifying, usually make dry, slow reading—with only the occasional scintillating example of the consequences, such as lost air defense missiles, tug boats, and billions of dollars.

No more. A conscientious captain of the 106th Finance Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, Capt. Michael J. Hurst, wrote a report in March 2005 that explains in dramatic terms some of the consequences of the Pentagon’s gross financial management incompetence.

In late 2004, he and his unit started discovering problems in the pay made available to wounded soldiers being evacuated from Iraq. The commander of the 106th ordered a study of the wounded from the entire 1st Infantry Division. The audit team found a litany of horror stories, including the following:

  • Some soldiers evacuated to the Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center in Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington were declared AWOL from their units and their pay was docked.
  • Other soldiers were being paid deployment entitlements they were no longer earning, thereby accruing debt they were not aware of and had great difficulty paying back; soldiers even became the target of collection agencies assigned to them by the Army pay system.
  • An extrapolation of the number of soldiers evaluated in the study “yields a population of 3,000-4,000 wounded or injured soldiers with significant errors in pay.”
  • The Army maintains eight different pay-tracking systems, none of them up to date, comprehensive, nor able to share data automatically. Thus, the Army has no way of definitively knowing the actual number of mis-paid and otherwise abused and harassed wounded soldiers.
  • The only way to fix the chaos is for finance or personnel clerks to manually correct the data for each individual soldier in each of the wayward pay tracking systems.
  • One of the latest personnel reforms imposed from above has been to eliminate the very same personnel and finance occupational specialties in the Army and convert those positions into civilian jobs, for which the Army refuses to pay a salary sufficient to attract qualified, competent people.
  • Existing laws and regulations are extremely complex, and there is no Army training program to explain them all to soldiers, commanders, or clerks (civilian or military).
  • There appears to be no agency in the Army charged with oversight of this nightmarish system.

As if all that were not enough, although reports of these kinds of problems, and even about this report, have appeared in the press, thus far no one in Congress or the Pentagon has done much of anything except, in a few cases, to talk about it.

Of course, the actual report from Captain Hurst reveals other details, none of them uplifting.