Kirstin Cole / CBS – 2007-08-07 22:46:35
Army’s ‘Debt Of Service’ Leaves Vets Perplexed
Unbelievably, Soldiers Must Pay For Damaged Equipment
(NEW YORK (Jul 31, 2007) — Servicemen and women who made huge sacrifices fighting in the war and now paying yet another price, even after coming home.
One soldier in particular is currently battling against a new “debt of service.”
Brian Rodriguez is a fighter, an honorably discharged soldier who’d been deployed in Iraq. “I was a combat engineer,” Rodriguez said. “We deal with land mines, explosives.”
He fought for his nation, only to return to his homeland and wage a fresh battle.
Former Army Specialist Rodriguez started getting bills for $700 for lost or damaged government property this summer. Although he was discharged some four years ago, bills recently arrived demanding payment, but giving no details on what or why — nor do they offer a way to dispute the charges.
“For doing my job you’re going to bill me?” Rodriguez said.
And he’s not alone. A 2006 government report found more than 1,000 soldiers being billed a total of $1.5 million. And while fighting overseas put their lives on the line, this battle on paper could cost them their future by ruining their credit. Rodriguez will be reported to credit agencies next month.
“It makes a terrible point about the nature of military service today,” citizen soldier Tod Ensign said. Ensign is a veteran’s advocate. He says this is all part of the military’s push to be run more like a business. “They’ll just pound him and call him, call his employers, and make his life as miserable as they can until he pays up,” Ensign said.
Testimony before Congress detailed in a report found that “although unit commanders and finance offices are authorized to write off debts for lost and damaged equipment … they have not always done so.”
“It happens too often and it’s just disgraceful,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “Here are people who are risking their lives for us and they come home and they’re being treated as if they’re criminals instead of heroes.”
Because it’s been four years since he left the Middle East, Rodriguez’s battalion was dissolved and his commanders are long gone. And despite repeated requests, the Army never could tell us what piece of equipment Rodriguez was billed for, nor would they get rid of the debt.
“I did my time, I served my country and this is the thanks I get,” Rodriguez said.
Their suggestion? Call your Congressman. Schumer said he’ll reach out to the Army to intervene on Brian’s behalf.
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