Senators Say Medically-Discharged Troops Should Not Be Penalized
In response to recent reports of wounded troops being asked to repay their enlistment bonuses, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced on Monday legislation that guarantees full payment of bonuses and incentives to veterans wounded in combat. The bipartisan legislation also requires the Pentagon to conduct an audit to identify former servicemembers who may have been affected by this practice dating back to 2001 and to restore their rightful payments. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mel Martinez (D-NJ), and Jim Webb (D-VA) joined in cosponsoring the bill.
"Tens of thousands of troops have been injured in Iraq with many of them struggling to support themselves and their families. We owe these troops our word and we must not drop our commitment to them at the U.S. shoreline," said Senator Casey. "I am pleased to join this effort in the U.S. Senate and would like to recognize the work of Congressman Jason Altmire from my home state of Pennsylvania who helped bring this problem to light when one of our constituents faced the loss of his enlistment bonus."
"Our young men and women serve with incredible courage and bravery. Their enlistment represents a commitment to serve and protect their country. In return, the United States makes a commitment to them, and the government must fulfill its end of the bargain," Senator Sessions said. "It is unthinkable that the Department of Defense would fail to provide the financial compensation promised to those willing to serve, particularly when those same soldiers have suffered serious injuries in combat. This legislation underscores the principle that the Department of Defense must make good on promises made to new recruits."
"Our wounded warriors have served and sacrificed for our country. It is the least we can do to honor the promises made to them and guarantee that they receive their full and deserved benefits. This legislation will ensure that no man or woman in uniform who is wounded in service to our nation will be forced to give up their enlistment bonus," Senator Clinton said. "Penalizing soldiers wounded in combat is literally adding insult to injury and is completely unacceptable."
The "Restoring Guaranteed Bonuses for Wounded Veterans Act of 2007" would end a practice identified by the Dole-Shalala commission. The legislation would:
· require payment of remaining bonus entitlement to servicemembers within 90 days of retirement or separation due to a combat-related injury;
· define 32 types of bonuses and special pay that would be covered under this legislation;
· define combat-related injury for these purposes;
· include a provision that would direct the Department of Defense to immediately stop collection actions on portions of bonuses already paid out;
· provide a September 11, 2001 retroactive period for the payment or repayment of bonuses that were stopped or not completely paid;
· and direct that DoD or another entity performs a financial audit that identifies former servicemembers to be paid and the amount money owed to each former servicemember.
Congressman Jason Altmire (PA-4) introduced similar legislation to protect the bonuses of wounded veterans in the U.S. House of Representatives in October. It is now cosponsored by 245 members of Congress.
"Current policy leaves room for error and has resulted in wounded veterans continuing to fall through the cracks. Early discharge for a combat-related injury should not result in the loss of any unpaid portion of a service member's bonus," said Congressman Altmire. "I commend my Senate colleagues for standing up for our nation's heroes and working to see that all earned bonuses are guaranteed to them."
The Senate bill introduced Monday drew immediate praise from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
"Denying wounded servicemembers their full enlistment bonuses is outrageous and IAVA is grateful for Senator Clinton and Senator Sessions' leadership to end this unfair practice. These injured heroes deserve this country's respect and gratitude and the introduction of S.2400 is a critical step in that direction," said Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).