Friday, April 28, 2006

GAO Says Government Pesters Wounded Soldiers Over Debts

Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 27th

Nearly 900 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have been saddled
with government debts as they have recovered from war, according to a
report that describes collection notices going out to veterans with
brain damage, paralysis, lost limbs and shrapnel wounds.

The report from the Government Accountability Office, to be released at
a hearing today, details how long-recognized problems with military
computer systems led to the soldiers being dunned for an array of debts
related to everything from errors in paychecks to equipment left behind
on the battlefield.

The problem came to light last year, as soldiers' complaints began to
surface and several lawmakers became involved. The GAO had been
investigating other pay problems caused by the defense accounting system
and was asked by Congress to investigate debts among the battle-wounded.

The new report shows a problem more widespread than previously known.

"We found that hundreds of separated battle-injured soldiers were
pursued for collection of military debts incurred through no fault of
their own," the report said.

Last fall, the Army said 331 soldiers had been hit with military debt
after being wounded at war. The latest figures show that a larger group
of 900 battle-wounded troops has been tagged with debts.

"It's unconscionable," said Ryan Kelly, 25, a retired staff sergeant who
lost a leg to a roadside bomb and then spent more than a year trying to
fend off a debt of $2,231. "It's sad that we'd let that happen."

Kelly recalled the day in 2004 when, months after learning to walk on a
prosthesis, he opened his mailbox to find a letter saying he was in debt
to the government -- and in jeopardy of referral to a collection agency.
"It hits you in the gut," he said. "It's like, 'Thanks for your service,
and now you owe us.' "

The underlying problem is an antiquated computer system for paying and
tracking members of the military. Pay records are not integrated with
personnel records, creating numerous errors. When soldiers leave the
battlefield, for example, they lose a pay differential, but the system
can take time to lower their pay.

The government then tries to recoup overpayments, docking pay for
active-duty troops and sending debt notices to those who have left the
military. Eventually, the government sends private agencies to collect
debts and notifies credit bureaus.

The computer system is so broken that 400 soldiers killed in action were
listed as owing money to the government, although no debt notices were
sent, the report said.

A total of $1.5 million in debts has been linked to the 400 fallen
soldiers and 900 wounded troops. Of the total, $124,000 has been repaid.
The government has waived $959,000, and the remainder of $420,000 is
still owed.

Michael Hurst, a former Army finance officer in Arlington who has
studied the issue, said the military should have taken action years ago
to prevent the debts from being created.

"It's a complete leadership failure," he said. "We can't expect the
soldiers to notice mistakes in their pay that the paid professionals
have failed to notice and correct."

Although the GAO report focuses on battle-wounded soldiers who have
separated from the military, there are probably others who were still on
active duty when their debts caught up with them, Hurst said. Factoring
those in, "I would say thousands" are affected by the problem, he said.

The GAO report said that 73 percent of the debts were caused by pay
problems, including overpayments, calculation errors and mistakes in
leave. Other debts were created when soldiers were billed for enlistment
bonuses, medical services, travel and lost equipment.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.),
who is holding the hearing, has called the phenomenon "financial
friendly fire." Yesterday, his spokesman, Robert White, reacted to the
report, saying: "Literally adding insult to injury, the systems that are
supposed to nurture and support returning warriors too often inflict
additional wounds to their financial health."

In one case cited in the GAO report, the debts meant that a soldier's
family had no money to pay bills and had to send an 11-year-old daughter
to live out of state.

At today's hearing, Army and Defense Department officials are expected
to testify about what is being done to correct the problem. A database
of soldiers wounded in action has been created, but the GAO suggested
that more needs to be done, including congressional action to forgive
more soldiers' debts and provide refunds in certain cases.

Previously the GAO had issued 80 recommendations for improving the Army
payroll processes. Army officials have said they are at work on those
recommendations. An Army spokesman did not return calls yesterday
requesting comment.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Chicago!!! You Gotta Love It!!!


60 degrees - Floridians wear coats, gloves, and woolly hats. Chicago people sunbathe.

50 degrees - New Yorkers try to turn on the heat. Chicago people plant gardens.

40 degrees - Italian cars won't start. Chicago people drive with the windows down.

32 degrees - CHICAGO--NO PLACE LIKE IT! Distilled water freezes. Lake Michigan's water gets thicker.

20 degrees - Californians shiver uncontrollably. Chicago people have the last cookout before it gets cold.

15 degrees - New York landlords finally turn up the heat. Chicago people throw on a sweatshirt.

0 degrees - Californians fly away to Mexico. Chicago people lick the flagpole and throw on a light jacket over the sweatshirt.

20 below - People in Miami cease to exist. Chicago people get out their winter coats.

40 below - Hollywood disintegrates. Chicago's Girl Scouts begin selling cookies door to door.

50 below - Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. Chicago people get frustrated when they can't thaw the keg.

60 below -- Microbial life survives on dairy products. Illinois cows complain about farmers with cold hands.

460 below - ALL atomic motion stops. Chicago people start saying. . "Cold 'nuff for ya??"

500 below - Hell freezes over. The Chicago Cubs win the World Series

You must learn to pronounce the city name. It is Shi-ca-go, or Sha-ca-ga depending on if you live North or South of Roosevelt Rd, respectively.

Next, if your road map is more than a few weeks old, throw it out and buy new one. If in Naperville and your map is one day old, then it is already obsolete.

Forget the traffic rules you learned elsewhere. Chicago has its own version of traffic rules... "Hold on and pray."

There is no such thing as a dangerous high-speed chase in Chicago. We all drive like that!

All directions start with, "I-94" ... which has no beginning and no end.

The morning rush hour is from 5AM to noon. The evening rush hour is from 3PM to 10PM. Friday's rush hour starts Thursday morning.

If you actually stop at a yellow light, you will be rear ended, cussed out and possibly shot.

When you are the first one on the starting line, count to five when the light turns green before going to avoid crashing with all the drivers running the red light in cross-traffic.

Construction on the Northwest Tollway is a way of life and a permanent form of entertainment. We had so much fun with that we have added the Elgin O'Hare Expressway (which oddly enough doesn't go to Elgin OR O'Hare) and I-355 to the mix.

All unexplained sights are explained by the phrase, "Oh, we're in Cicero!"

If someone actually has their turn signal on, it is probably a factory defect.

Car horns are actually "Road Rage" indicators.

All old ladies with blue hair in Mercedes have the right of way. Period.

First Ave, LaGrange Rd, NW Highway, all mysteriously change names as you cross intersections (these are only a FEW examples).

If asking directions in Cicero you must have knowledge of Spanish.

If in Bridgeport, Mandarin Chinese will be your best bet.

If you stop to ask directions on the West or South side you better be armed.

A trip across town (east to west) will take a minimum of four hours, although many north/south freeways have unposted minimum speeds of 75.

The minimum acceptable speed on the Dan Ryan is 85. Anything less is considered downright sissy.

The wrought iron on windows near Englewood and Austin is not ornamental.

The Congress Expressway, commonly referred to as the Eisenhower Expressway is our daily version of NASCAR (though often at speeds that don't exceed 5 mph).

The Dan! Ryan is called "The Death Trap" for two reasons: "death" and "trap."!

If it's 100 degrees, it's Taste of Chicago. If it's 10 degrees and sleeting/snowing, it's opening day at Wrigley Field. If it's rained 6 inches in the last hour, the Western open Golf Classic is in the second round.

If you go to Wrigley Field pay the $25.00 to park in the "Cubs Lot." Parking elsewhere could cost up to $2500 for damages, towing fees, parking tickets, etc. If some guy with a flag tries to get you to park in his yard, run over him.

Chicago, there's no place like it!???

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Buck: For the Record

Buck Owens, the flashy rhinestone cowboy of Hee Haw fame and singer of hits like Act Naturally, died of heart failure, Saturday, March 25th at his home in Bakersfield. He was 76.
Buck had undergone throat cancer surgery in 1993 and was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1997.
Buck, who played red, white and blue guitar, shaped country music with a phenomenal string of more than 20 No. 1 records, most released from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Among his biggest hits were Together Again (also recorded with Emmylou Harris), I've Got a Tiger by the Tail, Love's Gonna Live Here, My Heart Skips a Beat and Waitin' in Your Welfare Line.
In 1988 he had another No. 1 record, Streets of Bakersfield, with Dwight Yoakam.
Ringo Starr of the Beatles, recorded Act Naturally twice, singing lead on the Beatles' 1965 version and recording it as a duet with Buck in 1989. The song was written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison and tells of a poor soul who foresees a movie career playing "a man who's sad and lonely, and all I gotta do is act naturally. ... Might win an Oscar, you can never tell."
Along with the music, Buck was a co-host of Hee Haw from 1969 to 1986. He and guitarist Roy Clark had a lot of fun with country music and hayseed humor.
Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born in 1929 outside Sherman, Texas, the son of a sharecropper; during the Depression, the family moved to Arizona.
And here’s a strange: Buck Owens told TV's Great American Country during an interview last year that "this is the last one of these things I'm ever going to do." That turned out to be true.
GAC has put together interview highlights and country singers' reactions to Buck's death into one episode of Country Music Across America, called Buck Owens: The Final Conversation. Check GMC for running times.
For more information, go to