Friday, December 10, 2004

They Charged Him an Arm and a Leg, But They'll Settle for an Arm and $1,768.81 

To paraphrase a recent remark by the Secretary of Defense to our troops, "You go home with the body you've got, not the body you want":
He lost his arm serving his country in Iraq.

Now this wounded soldier is being discharged from his company in Fort Hood, Texas, without enough gas money to get home. In fact, the Army says 27-year-old Spc. Robert Loria owes it close to $2,000, and confiscated his last paycheck.

"There's people in my unit right now – one of my team leaders [who was] over in Iraq with me, is doing everything he can to help me .... but it's looking bleak," Loria said by telephone from Fort Hood yesterday. "It's coming up on Christmas and I have no way of getting home" . . . .

Like many soldiers wounded in Iraq, Loria's injuries were caused by a roadside bombing. It happened in February when his team from the 588th Battalion's Bravo Company was going to help evacuate an area in Baqubah, a town 40 miles north of Baghdad. A bomb had just ripped off another soldier's arm. Loria's Humvee drove into an ambush.

When the second bomb exploded, it tore Loria's left hand and forearm off, split his femur in two and shot shrapnel through the left side of his body. Months later, he was still recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and just beginning to adjust to life without a hand, when he was released back to Fort Hood . . . .

Then he was hit with another bomb. The Army had another tally – of money it says Loria owed to his government.

A Separation Pay Worksheet given to Loria showed the numbers: $2,408.33 for 10 months of family separation pay that the Army erroneously paid Loria after he'd returned stateside, as a patient at Walter Reed; $2,204.25 that Loria received for travel expenses from Fort Hood back to Walter Reed for a follow-up visit, after the travel paperwork submitted by Loria never reached the correct desk. And $310 for missing items on his returned equipment inventory list.

"There was stuff lost in transportation, others damaged in the accident," Loria said of the day he lost his hand. "When it went up the chain of command, the military denied coverage."

Including taxes, the amount Loria owed totaled $6,255.50. The last line on the worksheet subtracted that total from his final Army payout and found $1,768.81 "due us."

"It's nerve-racking," Loria said. "After everything I have done, it's almost like I am being abandoned, like, you did your job for us and now you are no use. That's how it feels."
To paraphrase a recent remark by the Commander-in-Chief to our troops, "Fuck you, soldier."

UPDATE (via emblan patriot J.M.): Bad publicity works wonders:
Several lawmakers -- Rep. Maurice Hinchey and Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton [N.B.: All Democrats -- S.]-- interceded on behalf of the 27-year-old veteran after his irate wife, Christine Loria, told the Times-Herald Record of Middletown about the problem . . . .

Clinton, Schumer, and Hinchey said Friday the Army has dropped the billing demands and will allow Loria to return home today or tomorrow on leave before he is discharged.

Hinchey charged the demands of the Iraq war have overstretched the military, which "sent people out to make sacrifices and then provided them with what essentially is personal abuse when they return home -- abuse and dishonor."

The Democratic lawmakers said Loria should be able to start heading home to New York in a day or two, but his wife said she wants to make absolutely sure those bills won't be reinstated at some point.

"I just want him out of there. I'm relieved that I know he's coming home but I know how powerful the military is and I'm just so very, very nervous until he is actually home," she said.

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