Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wounded Vets Still Caught in Limbo While Congress Wrings Their Hands

A few weeks ago, the blogosphere went ballistic when the story about wounded veterans being ordered to repay enlistment/reenlistment/retention bonuses when they are injured or wounded and unable to complete their enlistment contract got picked up briefly by the M$M.

Congress immediately set about paying bipartisan lip service to the problem, with Senator Jeff Sessions (R, AL) and Congressman Jason Altmire (D, PA) both penning legislation to rectify the injustice. On Friday the Senate bill passed, and the House version is expected to pass today, but meek efforts at best have been made to work out compromise legislation before Congress heads out of town for three weeks for the holiday recess. Congress is planning on wrapping up all pending legislation by late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Aides to both Sessions and Altmire have said no direct talks to work out compromise legislation have taken place, in fact, Altmire aides said that they hope the Senate will pass the Altmire version without changes.

The main difference in the two bills involves retroactive payments to anyone who did not get their full bonus since 12 September 2001 when a combat injury was the reason for separation or discharge. The Senate bill, S 2400, the Wounded Warrior Bonus Equity Act, has the retroactive provision, and the House version, HR 3793, the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act, does not allow for any retroactive payment of bonuses.

Currently, the Pentagon leaves decisions about bonuses to the individual branches of service, “DoD does not preclude the services from paying out unpaid portions of bonuses when the service member is separated for no fault of their own,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Colonel Jonathan Withington. Withington said that unpaid “portions are paid out in full in the event of a death” and that members separated for disability “would receive a lump-sum payment of their unearned portions of any bonus.”

Sessions maintains that he is not convinced the services are following those guidelines and that is why the bonus guarantees should be set in law and should provide retroactive coverage.

I agree with Sessions on this one - his bill is the one that gives coverage to the wounded veterans that we went nuts about. Not covering the veterans who were the reason behind the legislation seems like locking the barn door after the horse has escaped, dontcha think?