updated 8/23/2004 9:36:35 PM ET 2004-08-24T01:36:35

Army Reserve payroll procedures for activated soldiers are so convoluted that mistakes occurred in 95 percent of the cases examined by congressional auditors, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.

Soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan have had to spend a year or more straightening out problems affecting their pay, allowances and tax benefits, the GAO said.

Most errors involved overpayments, but those proved to be problematic for soldiers who didn’t acknowledge the extra pay or didn’t set aside enough money to pay it back. In one example, the GAO recommended a criminal investigation for a soldier who didn’t report $36,000 in overpayments.

The GAO found the payment system was so “error-prone, cumbersome and complex that neither (the Defense Department) nor, more importantly, Army Reserve soldiers themselves could be reasonably assured of timely and accurate payments.”

It warned the payroll problems could hurt morale and the Army’s efforts to retain reservists.

Pentagon concurs
In its response, the Pentagon agreed with 15 GAO recommendations for improving payroll procedures and said it is already taking steps to correct the problems.

The GAO report comes as the National Guard and Reserve take on an increasingly important role in Iraq, making up about 40 percent of the total force. Active-duty forces have been stretched thin as fighting with insurgents continues.

The GAO previously found similar problems affecting the Army National Guard. In November, it reported payroll problems affecting 450 of 481 mobilized soldiers whose records it examined.

In the Army Reserve study, it examined the payroll records of 348 soldiers who were mobilized, deployed and demobilized from August 2002 to January 2004. The soldiers were in seven Army Reserve units providing combat support in Iraq or Afghanistan and one providing homeland defense services.

$247,000 overpaid to 256 soldiers
It found 332 of the soldiers had at least one problem. Overall, the problems amounted to $375,000 in pay and allowances, including $247,000 in overpayments to 256 soldiers.

The problems often lingered unresolved, sometimes lasting more than a year.

“A number of soldiers and their families told us they spent considerable time and effort on these pay issues, sometimes while soldiers were deployed in remote, hostile environments overseas,” the GAO said.

“Soldiers were sometimes required to spend considerable time and were frustrated in their efforts to determine the exact sums owed or establish a repayment plan”

Activated Army reservists may receive extra pay for such factors as hazardous duty, foreign language proficiency or hardship assignments. They are also eligible for allowances, such as for housing and family separation.

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