**Girl on the Blog**
September 30th, 2005 5:58 am
Pentagon still not reimbursing troops who buy own body armor
By Lolita C. Baldor / Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Nearly a year after Congress demanded action, the Pentagon still hasn't figured out a way to reimburse U.S. troops for body armor and equipment they purchased to better protect themselves while serving in Iraq.
For Marine Sgt. Todd Bowers that extra equipment — a high-tech rifle scope bought by his father for $600 and a $100 pair of goggles — turned out to be a life-or-death purchase. And he has
never been reimbursed.
Bowers, who is from Arizona but going to school in Washington, D.C., was shot by a sniper during his second tour in Iraq, but the round lodged in his scope, and his goggles protected his eyes from the shrapnel that struck his face.
"We weren't provided those going to Iraq," he said yesterday. "But they literally saved my life." He and other soldiers and their parents are still spending hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars for armor they say the military won't provide. One U.S. senator said yesterday he will try again to force the Pentagon to obey the reimbursement law it opposed from the outset and has so far not implemented.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said he will offer amendments to the defense appropriations bill working its way through Congress to take the issue out of the hands of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and give control to military unit commanders in the field. "Rumsfeld is violating the law," Dodd said. "It's been sitting on the books for over a year. They were opposed to it. It was insulting to them. I'm sorry that's how they felt." Dodd said men and women in uniform "are serving halfway around the world. And they shouldn't have to rely on bake sales and lemonade stands to raise money" to get them the equipment they need.
Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said the department "is in the final stages of putting a reimbursement program together and it is expected to be operating soon." But defense officials would not discuss the reason for the delay. Krenke said the Pentagon's first priority is to ensure that soldiers "have all they need to fight and win this nation's wars."
Others don't see it that way.
"Your expectation is that when you are sent to war, that our government does everything they can do to protect the lives of our people, and anything less than that is not good enough," said a former Marine who spent nearly $1,000 two weeks ago to buy lower-body armor for his son, a Marine serving in Fallujah.
The father asked that he be identified only by his first name — Gordon — because he fears retribution against his son.
"I wouldn't have cared if it cost us $10,000 to protect our son, I would do it," said Gordon. "But I think the U.S. has an obligation to make sure they have this equipment and to reimburse for it. I just don't support Donald Rumsfeld's idea of going to war with what you have, not what you want. You go to war prepared, and you don't go to war until you are prepared." Under the law Congress passed in October, the Defense Department had until Feb. 25 to develop regulations for the reimbursement, which is limited to $1,100 per item. Pentagon officials called it "an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DOD with an open-ended financial burden."
In a letter to Dodd in late April, David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel, said his office was developing regulations to implement the reimbursement, and would be done in about 60 days.
Soldiers and their families have reported buying everything from higher-quality protective gear to armor for their Humvees, medical supplies and even global positioning devices.
"It is a crime -- literally -- that the Pentagon has not reimbursed the troops for their body armor and other vital equipment. It is equally reprehensible that our troops and their families are still purchasing this equipment themselves.... We can do better than this."
Until we meet again...