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Wounded Iraq Veterans Get Bills

The Army has identified 129 wounded soldiers who mistakenly received bills for expenses upon returning home from wars — in some cases instead of final paychecks — and it has forgiven their debts.

After learning of the first such cases, Army Gen. Richard A. Cody said, an audit team determined that other wounded soldiers "experienced pay issues" and the Army has made changes it hopes will prevent other instances.

"We are dedicated to the well being of our soldiers and strive to provide the absolute best for America's sons and daughters," Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff, said in a letter sent late Friday to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The Democrat from New York intervened in the case of Spc. Robert Loria, who lost his arm in Iraq. In December, as Loria was about to be discharged from the Army, officials told the 27-year-old soldier from Middletown, N.Y. that he owed nearly $1,800 in expenses.

Loria, who was wounded last February, had expected to get a check for nearly $4,500.

But Army officials said he had been overpaid for his time as a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and said he still owed money for travel between the Washington-area hospital, where he received treatment, and Fort Hood in Texas, where he was recovering. Officials also said he also owed money for items not found in his returned equipment and had to repay his family separation stipend.

Clinton and other members of the New York delegation claimed that the Army's estimate of expenses owed was too large and based in part on paperwork errors and bureaucratic complications. They also faulted Army officials for failing to help wounded soldiers determine just how much money they are owed.

The Army ultimately forgave Loria's debt.

But after Clinton's office received other similar complaints, she sent a letter to the Army on Jan. 19 asking what procedures were in place to avoid similar cases. She said the complaints she had heard "suggest serious systemic problems."

In his response, Cody said Army medical and financial officials now meet individually with wounded soldiers to ensure they are aware of any entitlements they are owed. And, he said, the Army has established financial support teams at hospitals for wounded soldiers to swiftly take care of any such problems.

On Monday, Clinton said she was pleased with the efforts but blamed the "Army bureaucracy" for the errors in the first place. She said in a statement that soldiers wounded while serving their country should not be made "victims of red tape" because "we owe it to them to ensure that they have the support that they need."

By Liz Sidoti

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