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Pentagon misses troops’ repayment deadline

The Defense Department hasn’t developed a plan to repay soldiers for equipment they’ve paid for out of pocket to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite requirements in a law passed last year, a senator said in a letter Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Defense Department hasn’t developed a plan to reimburse soldiers for equipment they’ve bought to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan despite requirements in a law passed last year, a senator said.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., asked details on the Pentagon’s progress setting up the reimbursement program and questioned why it was not in place yet.

“Very simply, this is either negligence on their part, because they were not happy with this when it passed, or it’s incompetence,” Dodd said. “It’s pretty outrageous when you have all their rhetoric about how much we care about our people in uniform.”

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

Soldiers serving in Iraq and their families have reported buying everything from higher-quality protective gear to armor for their Humvees, medical supplies and even global positioning devices.

In response to the complaints, Congress last year passed Dodd’s amendment requiring the Pentagon to reimburse members of the Armed Services for the cost of any safety or health equipment that they bought or someone else bought on their behalf.

Feb. 25 deadline
Under the law, the Defense Department had until Feb. 25 to develop regulations on the reimbursement, which is limited to $1,100 per item.

Dodd asked that Rumsfeld provide details on the department’s progress. But he also said it was unclear what recourse he has, other than public embarrassment, to force the Defense Department to act.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who repeatedly decried the lack of equipment during his unsuccessful presidential campaign, said the Pentagon needs to move quickly to give the troops their reimbursement and armored Humvees.

“They should be living up to the letter of the law,” Kerry said.

The latest emergency spending proposal for the war totals $81.9 billion, including $74.9 billion for the Defense Department. It includes $3.3 billion for extra armor for trucks and other protective gear — underscoring a sensitivity to earlier complaints by troops.