Video: Soldiers sue U.S.

NBC News
By Ron Allen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/17/2006 11:55:29 AM ET 2006-01-17T16:55:29

Retired Army Captain Louis Tortorella signed up again, right after 9/11. His Massachusetts National Guard unit helped protect sites like reservoirs and military bases.

"I've always learned and appreciated that the military treats everyone equal," Tortorella says. "We all wear the same uniform and defend the same country."

But now he's part of a class-action lawsuit that seeks $73 million in reimbursed expenses and damages. The suit against the Massachusetts National Guard and the Pentagon aims to include between 1,000-1,500 soldiers who were activated by the state's Guard from September 11, 2001 to the present.

Tortorella claims it cost him more than $14,000 to carry out his mission, because his orders did not authorize reimbursement for travel expenses, food and lodging. He says he drove several hours, round trip, each day for nearly two years to posts at the Quabbin Reservoir, 60 miles west of Boston, and Camp Edwards, near Falmouth, Mass., because the military did not provide housing.

"It's never happened throughout the military where a soldier has had to pay for their own meals and their own lodging while on active duty," Tortorella says.

Tortorella's attorney, John Shek, says his client and others in his unit had no choice. 

"They had to do it," Shek says, "because they're soldiers subject to active duty orders under criminal offense of being AWOL if they didn't."

The Massachusetts National Guard would not comment on the case. But they said Tortorella's claim already was under investigation prior to the lawsuit; along with some 500 other sets of orders.

While Massachusetts apparently is the first state to face a lawsuit, there are perhaps thousands of Guard and Reserve soldiers across the country battling to get paid. A recent government report called the Army National Guards' reimbursement system inefficient and error prone — citing cases in California, Mississippi and Alabama, to name just a few.

"Orders were one of the key causes of the disputes and the problems," says Greg Kutz of the Government Accounting Office.

The disputes are especially about reimbursement for meals and housing costs from soldiers stationed near bases that could not handle the increased number of troops. There have been hundreds of thousands of call-ups since 9/11. Fifty thousand reservists also served when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit.

Meanwhile, Tortorella says suing was a last resort.

"I preferred not to do that," he explains. "I exhausted all means with my chain of command."

Tortorella is a soldier who claims the cost of serving his country was too high.

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