Saturday, June 11, 2011

Military in the News...

This week, there was a story about a group of soldiers who were charged $2,800 for having "too many bags" when returning from Afghanistan. The story went "viral" after a couple of the soldiers posted this video on YouTube.

The public response was pretty loud about this, but one comment that I read stuck out at me. It was along the lines that it really wasn't a big deal and that the soldiers could file papers when they got back to their unit, to get reimbursed for the costs. (Nevermind that there were orders and contracts with Delta, allowing for the soldiers to have 4 bags anyways.) But back to the whole "reimbursement" thing.

There may be policies out there in the military world where a soldier could get reimbursed for certain things, but the chances of that actually happening???? Ha!

I'm not trying to sound jaded or anything, but I really view that as a joke.

Let me give you just a couple of the examples from my 20 years of military life.

Back around 2004 or so, my husband and a few other soldiers were sent to Fort Irwin, CA to do some inspections at the installation. The army booked their flights, hotels and all the details. They flew the soldiers into Las Vegas because they said that was the closest major airport. They had them arriving very late, and had them stay at a hotel in Las Vegas over night, then drive rental cars to the installation the next day. They needed two rental cars to transport all of the soldiers in this group.

Any expenses they incurred were to be put on the government-issued Military Credit Card. So the hotel (which was booked by the army) was paid for by my husband on his military credit card. $120 for one night. The two rental cars were put on the cards of a couple of the other soldiers in the group. They traveled to Irwin, spent the couple days there doing what they needed to, then drove back to Las Vegas and flew home. Then they had to file their travel papers. My husband submitted all of his expenses, and the army cut him a check, so we could pay off that government-issued card. Not only did it take almost 3 months for them to reimburse us...meanwhile the credit card agency wanted payment we had to go out-of-pocket to pay this, because the bill was due, and the army was SLOW. They may be govnernment issued, but they are in the soldier's name. If payment is late, it effects the soldier's credit. But here is the real kicker.

The army paid all the expenses except the $120 hotel bill. The hotel that the ARMY booked for them. We were never reimbursed for that. Oh, and the rental cars that they used to travel from Vegas to Irwin? Not Authorized for payment. So I guess they were supposed to walk or hitchhike the 176 miles between the two.

Here's a more recent example.

Earlier this year, my husband went to a school in Alabama. This is a school that all soldiers of his rank must take. Depending on the soldier's field, it can be in different locations, his happens to be there. The week before the course, the army booked his flight and everything, and he was to come in later that week to pick everything up (travel orders, etc.) When he went back in to pick everything up, there had been some kind of office mistake, and his flight had been canceled! So now people are jumping through hoops, trying to figure out what happened, and my husband is supposed to be on the road (or in the air) in 48 hours. So the army had to scramble and re-book his flights, and re-reserve his rental car and everything. The ARMY charged his military, government-issued credit card for the plane tickets. Which by now, were way more expensive because of the last-minute booking.

He takes his three airplanes down to Alabama, picks up his rental car and proceeds to his school. While he was down there, he withdrew $500 out of our personal checking account to use towards his meals, so that he wouldn't be putting everything on the credit card....made him nervous. He took advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel, and the weekly free BBQ dinner that they also offered. In between he ate sandwiches, ramen and other simple (in my book, YUCKY) food, to save money.

Six weeks later, he flew home and turned in his paperwork to be paid so he could pay off the credit card.

What was the army's response?

Your plane tickets cost too much.

Your rental car cost too much.

So the army paid us what they wanted, not what would cover the expenses of the plane and rental car that THEY booked.

So we paid the credit card off, and pulled money out of savings to do so. We are out the $500 out of pocket my husband paid for food (which should have been covered by per diem) but the per diem went towards the rental car and plane ticket payment. The family separation pay that was issued to us (Around $340, that is supposed to be OUR money) ALSO went towards paying off the military credit card...again, that the army charged everything on. In addition, another $200 or so from savings. All to pay for what the ARMY was supposed to pay for.

That's $1,040.00 out of OUR pockets to cover expenses for something the army was to pay for, and reimburse us for.

So is it any wonder, that when I was asked to go to Hawaii to represent Fort Wainwright families at the Army Family Action Plan conference, and was told I would have to pay for my hotel and then get reimbursed by the army....that I turned it down?

I have too much experience with the Army's idea of reimbursement. Maybe I am just a bit jaded. But once you have been burned over and over and over again...could you blame a person?

This is simply one of the challenges of living the military life.