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Billing of wounded vet stirs outrage

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds has lashed out at the Defense Department for billing a wounded Iraq War veteran for part of his signing bonus after his wounds forced him out of the military.

"It is a travesty and an embarrassment to ask our soldiers who have been injured to return money they have so bravely earned and deserve," Reynolds said.

The Republican from Clarence complained about the incident and the policy in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. In addition, Reynolds signed on to a bill that would reverse the Pentagon policy requiring wounded soldiers to repay part of their signing bonuses if their wounds render them unable to finish their tours of active duty.

More than 200 members of the House, including Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, are also co-sponsors of the bill.

Reynolds sent his letter to Gates after a report aired Monday on a Pittsburgh television station.

Pfc. Jordan Fox, an Army sniper who was knocked unconscious and blinded in his right eye by a roadside bomb in Iraq, told the station he received a bill from the Defense Department saying he owed nearly $3,000 of his $10,000 signing bonus for not completing his tour of duty in Iraq.

The Defense Department and the Army say they do not routinely ask for wounded soldiers to return signing bonuses. In Fox's case, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said, there was an error made in the financial system that caused him to not be "flagged as wounded." By Tuesday night, the mistake had been reversed, and Fox's debt had been waived, Boyce said.

But the main sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., noted that the official Defense Department policy states that enlistees cannot receive their full enlistment bonus unless they fulfill their entire military obligation.

Given that some bonuses are deferred, his bill requires that remaining bonuses be paid in full to all wounded soldiers within 30 days of their return home.

"I am disappointed that the policy does not go further by stating that wounded soldiers will also receive the remaining balance of future bonus payments," Altmire said in a statement. "It is preposterous for our government to have a policy that says that a soldier who has sustained serious injuries in the field of battle has not fulfilled his or her service obligation."

Reynolds made similar points in his letter to Gates.

"This practice, set in place before your tenure, is completely misguided and needs to be remedied immediately," said Reynolds, who asked any local veterans with similar problems to contact him.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com

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