Published on
the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Asking for Soldier's Money Back Unacceptable

Here's a quote from an Associated Press report dated Nov. 26, "Service members seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan after they received a $10,000 bonus for enlisting are being asked by the Pentagon to repay portions of the incentive money."

The mind just fills with words when you hear something like that. Words like abusive, pathetic, repulsive, disgusting, ignorant, ungrateful and downright insulting.

Ironically, after you get the invectives and the expletives off your chest, the whole idea of a roadside bomb partially blinding Jordan Fox and the Pentagon ordering him to pay back $2,800 of his enlistment bonus leaves you pretty much speechless.

For more details you can Google the Associated Press story about Jordan Fox and, as the AP refers to them, the "hundreds of other wounded veterans" who "have also received letters demanding repayment." You'll learn that the Pentagon finally decided that Jordan's case was a "clerical error" - but only after it was brought to their attention by veterans advocates and only after his family was hit with the $2,800 bill they thought they had to pay and only after their insult was added to his injury.

You know something wild? I went to a Hannaford in New York state last month. I used a personal check from my bank in Maine. Not only did my purchase get processed just as quickly as at home, but this New York Hannaford computer knew who I was and approved my check without need for additional identification. Am I supposed to believe that with the billions upon billions that we spend on our current wars, that the Pentagon couldn't electronically designate our tragically wounded service personnel so that they don't get billed for repayment of their bonuses?

What's the vice president doing? He's back at work after this weekend's electric shock. Can't we set him in front of a computer to put a check mark in a column on some spread-sheet when soldiers get injured or die in Afghanistan or Iraq? Can't some member of the current administration donate a few hours and assure that these clerical errors don't happen to the heroes fighting their war?

Nah, it's hard to believe that the current administration cares about these men and women at all.

And what does this do for morale? The grizzly numbers from war must be tough enough to hear when you are standing in Tikrit or Mosul or on the Pakistani border. More than 3,800 U.S. soldiers dead, tens of thousands wounded, those statistics have to chill even the bravest soldier's heart. But when they read that the federal government - instead of giving soldiers the balance of their enlistment bonus as soon as they're wounded - actually asks for it back: that's got to make a person want to ... well, want to ... quit!

You know, quit! Shirk their duty! Deny their commitment! Head for the hills! Run for cover! Get while the gettin's good! Am I not making myself clear? You know "cut and run" as the worst president in history likes to say. Oh, I have it! Here's an analogy that's fresh and bound to resonate: Pull a Trent Lott!

Or should we make that a Dennis Hastert?

Don't get me wrong, my initial reaction to Lott and Hastert quitting was a foolish grin and an audible "good riddance." But former Senate President Lott bailing out on his six-year re-enlistment with more than four years left and Hastert quitting Congress halfway through his two-year term is just plain desertion. Their ship-jumpings are the most recent and abrupt of a long line of elected Republicans leaping overboard since the 2006 elections - but most of the other guys had the decency to wait for their terms to end. Guys like Congressmen David Hobson from Ohio and Michael Ferguson of New Jersey, and more than a dozen other Republicans can't abandon us fast enough with our unwinnable wars, decrepit mortgage industry, sky-rocketing oil prices and exploding national debt.

And you know what? These congressional cut and runners - even Lott and Hastert who quit in the middle of their terms - have their pensions and compensation in tact.

Those guys, not our soldiers, should be paying us back!

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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