Sunday, October 14, 2007

Injured Iraq Vets Come Home to Poverty

By BRIAN ROSS, DAVID SCOTT and MADDY SAUER
Oct. 14, 2004 --

Following inquiries by ABC News, the Pentagon has dropped plans to force a severely wounded U.S. soldier to repay his enlistment bonus after injuries had forced him out of the service.

Army Spc. Tyson Johnson III of Mobile, Ala., who lost a kidney in a mortar attack last year in Iraq, was still recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he received notice from the Pentagon's own collection agency that he owed more than $2,700 because he could not fulfill his full 36-month tour of duty.

Johnson said the Pentagon listed the bonus on his credit report as an unpaid government loan, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment or obtain credit cards.

"Oh man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt, like, oh, my heart dropped."

Pentagon officials said they were unaware of the case until it was brought to their attention by ABC News. "Some faceless bureaucrat" was responsible for Johnson's predicament, said Gen. Franklin "Buster" Hagenbeck, a three-star general and the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. It's intolerable," said Hagenbeck. "I mean, I'm incredulous when I hear those kinds of things. I just can't believe that we allow that to happen. And we're not going to let it happen."

The Department of Defense and the Army intervened to have the collection action against Johnson stopped, said Hagenbeck.

"I was told today he's not going to have a nickel taken from him," he said. "And I will tell you that we'll keep a microscope on this one to see the outcome."
'Not So Good'
Hagenbeck also pledged to look into the cases of the other soldiers ABC News brought to the military's attention, including men who lost limbs and their former livelihoods after serving in Iraq.
"When you're in the military, they take good care of you," said the 23-year-old Johnson. "But now that I'm a vet, and, you know, I'm out of the military -- not so good. Not so good."

Johnson had been flying high last September, after being promoted from Army private first class to specialist in a field ceremony in Iraq. Inspired by his father's naval background to join the military after high school, Tyson planned a career in the military and the promotion was just the first step. But only a week after the ceremony took place, a mortar round exploding outside his tent brought him quickly back to Earth.

"It was like warm water running down my arms," he said. "But it was warm blood."

In addition to the lost kidney, shrapnel damaged Johnson's lung and heart, and entered the back of his head. Field medical reports said he was not expected to live more than 72 hours.

With the help of exceptional Army surgeons, Johnson survived. As he recuperated, however, Johnson faced perhaps an even greater obstacle than physical pain or injuries -- the military bureaucracy.

Part of the warrior ethos, the soldier's creed of the U.S. Army, is to "never leave a fallen comrade."

"And it doesn't just pertain to the battlefield," Hagenbeck said. "It means, when we get them home they're a part of the Army family forever."

But Johnson now lives in his car. It is where he spends most of his days, all of his nights, in constant pain from his injuries and unwilling to burden his family.

Better Off Dead?

Stories like Tyson Johnson's are not unique.

Many of the severely wounded soldiers returning from Iraq face the prospect of poverty and what they describe as official indifference and incompetence.

"Guys I've met, talking to people, they'd be better off financially for their families if they had died as opposed to coming back maimed," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who served as a civil affairs specialist for the Army while in Iraq.

On July 14, 2003, the Abilene, Texas, native had been on his way to a meeting about rebuilding schools in Iraq when his unarmored Humvee was blown up. A piece of shrapnel the size of a TV remote took his right leg off, below the knee, almost completely, Kelly said.

Kelly attests to receiving excellent medical care at Ward 57, the amputee section of Walter Reed, but said he quickly realized that the military had no real plan for the injured soldiers. Many had to borrow money or depend on charities just to have relatives visit at Walter Reed, Kelly said.

"It's not what I expected to see when I got here," he said. "These guys having to, you know, basically panhandle for money to afford things."

No Answer

Perhaps as a sign of the grim outlook facing many of these wounded soldiers, Staff Sgt. Peter Damon, a National Guardsman from Brockton, Mass., said he is grateful for being a double amputee.

"Well, in a way, I'm kind of lucky losing both arms because I've been told I'll probably get 100 percent disability," he said.

Damon, a mechanic and electrician, lost both arms in an explosion as he was repairing a helicopter in Iraq. He initially woke up in the hospital worried and anxious to learn that both forms of livelihood were taken away from him.

"Now what am I doing to do?" Damon said, faced with the prospect of supporting his wife, Jennifer, and two children. "I can't do either, none of those, with no hands."

The military fails to provide a lump sum payment for such catastrophic injuries. And Damon still has not heard from the military about what they plan to give in terms of monthly disability payments.

The last time Damon asked about the payments, he was told by the military that his paperwork had been lost.

"And then when I went to go back to inquire about it again, just to ask a question, I just wanted to see if they had found my paperwork, I was told I had to make an appointment and to come back five days later," he said.

A thick book of federal regulations specifies the disability rate based on how many limbs were amputated and precisely where.

The percentage rates were set during World War II.

Jennifer Damon said the shock of her husband returning with no arms has been replaced by the fear of destitution, as well as a frustration over her husband's final discharge. Like his disability benefits, Peter's release is being held up by the lost paperwork and unanswered phone calls.

"It's hard to understand," she said. "I mean, I need him more than they need him right now. It's been a long time. You've had him for a long time. I want him back."

A Failing System?

Staff Sgt. Larry Gill, a National Guardsman from Semmes, Ala., wonders whether his 20 dutiful years of military service have been adequately rewarded.

Last October, Gill injured his left leg when on patrol during a protest outside a mosque in Baghdad. A protester threw a hand grenade which left Gill, a former policeman, with leg intact, though useless. He received a Purple Heart from the military, but no program, plan or proposal of how to make a living in civilian life.

"It's not fair, and I'm not complaining," Gill said. "I'm not whining about it. You know, I just, I just don't think people really understand what we're being faced with.

Gill expects he will have to sell his home, the dream house he and his wife, Leah, designed and built, where they raised their children.

"I've never questioned my orders," he said. "I've slept with rats and stood in the rain and wondered why I was standing in the rain, and, you know, for my children to have to do without based on a lack of income from me, it's frustrating."

Leah Gill agreed. "I just don't feel we should have to uproot because of an injury that he received while he was serving the country," she said. "It shouldn't come down to that."

Gill and the others in Ward 57 have had their pictures taken frequently with visiting politicians.
"Where are the politicians? Where are the generals?" he asked. "Where are the people that are supposed to take care of me?"

Help and care will be forthcoming, promised Hagenbeck.

"There in fact was a plan," he said. "But again, it was not integrated in a seamless fashion that it needed to be. And that was not even, really, to be honest with you, recognized probably until sometime about a year ago. And these soldiers actually brought it to our attention about the transition problems."

The military would do a better job of taking care of their own, Hagenbeck said, though the system in place was often unwieldy, outdated and inadequate.

"Oh, there absolutely has been problems in the past," Hagenbeck said. "And they're in -- even with some of our soldiers today. Some missteps have been made. And they have not been taken care of the way they should have been taken care of."

Loyal Soldiers

help these neglected soldiers, Hagenbeck said, the military created an advocacy program this past April called Disabled Soldier Support System, or DS3. The network is set up to fight for a soldier's benefits and entitlements, ease transition to civilian life, and deal with any other problems facing a disabled soldier, according to Hagenbeck.

But still there are soldiers like Johnson who fall through the cracks.

His mother, Willie Jean Johnson, worries her son may hurt himself.

"He's not going to say anything bad about the Army," she said. "I have never heard him say anything bad about it. But you can see the hurt in his eyes. You can see the hurt from his heart in his eyes."

Johnson said he usually keeps to himself, preferring to protect his son from seeing him in his current state. "I'd rather be to myself than to flare at somebody else and, you know, and hurt someone that I know I really love," he said.

One year after nearly being killed in combat, the Pentagon has yet to send Johnson his Purple Heart medal.

The Pentagon collection notices, however, arrive without fail.

As to Kelly's discovery that he and his wounded comrades had to beg and borrow to pay for their loved ones to visit while they recuperate, Hagenbeck said a new policy went into effect this weekend to alleviate part of the problem.

"There was no system in place to support them in their needs. And I'll be honest with you, until it came to our attention, to people that were paying attention, and then those that wanted to help, that obstacle was there," Hagenbeck said.

Incredibly, these soldiers remain dedicated to the military despite all they have endured.

"Even though the way I'm being treated, you know, as a vet, I'd still go back in," Johnson said. "I would."

"I love being a soldier," Kelly said. "I don't regret what happened. If I had to go back to Iraq knowing that there was that chance of losing my leg, I'd do it. Because that's what the nation asked me to do."

Jessica Wang contributed to this report.

Update:
Following the airing of this report on PrimeTime Live, Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), a former infantryman, wrote a letter to the Pentagon demanding a progress report on the recently implemented Disabled Soldier Support System and further assurance that all wounded and disabled vets would be financially and otherwise assisted in making the transition to civilian life. "I am astonished by this story and disappointed," Dingell wrote, "that we are failing to fulfill our nation's duty to care for our injured veterans."


How might the Justice Oriented citizen react to such an article? How might a participatory citizen react? What are you going to do with this information?

27 comments:

Manpreet kaur said...

A justice orientated person, like we said in class will protests and try to get help from the government. While, a particapatory citizen will just try to helpveterans that come back in their own communities. After reading this article, I want to turn into a partcipatory citizen. I think that a person doesn't feel any need to help anyone unless they have a veteran in their own family.

Samantha Ross said...

It is a shame how Injured Iraqi Veterans come home to poverty. But even though it is really no ones fault for them coming home to poverty they do need to be helped. a justice oriented person would be the first one to step up and help injured Iraqi veterans. They would protest, petition, and set up organizations. A participatory citizen will be the one to set up organization within the community to raise money and try to shelter and feed to veteran. A personal responsible citizen would only help if the veteran was in the family or a close friend.

Vickie said...

Each day millions of workers at hurt of maimed at their job;these workers are placed on disability. Most of the disabled workers are given the money and compensation they need to continue to support themselves or their family. The workers are not being paid great amounts of money, but enough. So why is it that ours country's bravest workers are being left to fend for themselves when they are hurt on duty.
In class we spoke about the argument that the soliders knew the risks involved in their job before they enlisted. Sure, the soliders knew their lives were at risk, but they would have expected the country they are risking their lives for would ensure their livelyhood when they were wounded. American soliders are fighting for us and our safety and we are treating them as if they are nothing more than beggars. I think it is truly sad that our country can come up with money to pay the unemployed and for the struggles of people in other countries, but we can't even rally together to make sure our injured soliders recieve the benefits they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Samantha Ross said. Its unfortunate that Iraqi veterans have to endure poverty, especially after encountering mental and physical injury. The citizens who would make the most attempt to help, I feel, would be a justice oriented citizen. They would be the people who would try to do the most to change the fact that after returning from war, veterans owe the government money, and eventually surcome to poverty.
The work of a participatory citizen would be the next helpful. I believe that the work of a justice oriented citizen would be more helpful, because they protest to change what is, rather than just pay to support the Iraqi veterans. Although the participatory citizens are doing a good thing, and making an attempt to help, even if they continue to fund organizations and raise money, they wouldn't be able to help every single person who returns injured from war and is living in poverty.

- Alyssa Cumberbatch

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Samantha said. Sometimes I think we should be one of the type of citizens. Everyday, we sit home and do nothing. We should do something that can help other people, rather than sitting home. Personally, I wouldn't do anything, but it would be nice to help out? Many of us are personally responsible citizens rather than particpatory citizens. A lot of people in other countries need
our help.
-TLau

Anonymous said...

I think this is absolutley criminal and disgusting. A man serving for this country is now fighitng us to eat and live. I think itz amazing that the goverment makes promises and dosent come through yet we r re-electing officials and not doing anything to change what is happening to these vets.

Matthew morrison

Courtney Wilson said...

As a citizen of this country in the army, you should be able to be covered for any loss. The service contract should be more lenient because of the risk involved. If a soldier is maimed before the contract expires, they shouldn't be required to fulfill it because of their disability. It is impossible to continue fighting in a war as an amputee. They should be covered because when converting back to civilian life, there isn't anything for them to fall back on. There isn't anything for them to look forward to besides disability.

Anonymous said...

It is really a shame of what this article says. I personally wouldn't want the soldiers to be forced to repay his or hers enlistment bonus. I don't think the time matters and what I think what really matters is that soldiers are actually going to war knowing they could die a painful death. That's the definition for being courageous.
I definitely agree with what Samantha Ross said, a justice oriented person would be the first people to help the wounded veterans. They would actually protest, do petitions and set up groups to help the wounded veterans in any way they can. The participatory citizen as Samantha also said would be the ones who would elevate money, shelter and provide food to the veterans. And a personal responsible citizen would only assist a veteran if he/she is in the family or a close friend.


-Anta R.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what samantha ross said because they should be able to give them respect and help them out if needed because there risking there life to help others in the war. Like mat said in his comment how a man that is fighting for our country and at the same time fighting to eat and live. Goverment should make promises they can keep instead just speaking about what there going to do and don't do it...

Kristal atchsion

Bryan S. said...

I basically agree with everyone who has blogged so far. It is very unfortunate for thoughs who come back from the issues in Iraq to new issues they have to face in the U.S.. I feel as if its unfair to the veteran. Here they are defending our country and when they come back know one can help them. Many come back injured. As far as the citizen goes I feel the justice oriented will be the ones to really help, and go protest where needed. The justice oriented citizen would be the one looking for veterans in need to give a hand.Bryan S.

Octavia Ramos said...

I agree with what samantha said it isno ones fault that they got injured but on the other hand they have been seving our country and trying to do whats right for us laying theres lives down for our country and the military can't help them at all? its like a stab in the back with somebody behind you saying "oh thanks for your duty but we dont need your services anymore because your useless". I think that the military really need to change the way they do things because these people are human beings who have to take care of their family when they go home and have no way of doing it because their badly injured, so they have to make hrd sacrafices just to get by.

W Brown said...

Matt makes an excellent point. Why do American voters keep re-electing the same group of people who make these poor decisions?

Kristen Fitz said...

I agree with Octavia, it is true what they are doing is wrong. But, the goverment does not have all the money in the world to support the solders when they come back from war. It is sad that they have to live like this and have no help, but, there are so many solders that come back injure to help them all. Maybe they should not offer all of the money in the begining and use the starting bonus for when they come home, to help with there medical bills and houseing for there family.

John said...

To what Mr. Brown said: War time presidents are always re-elected; maybe it has something to do with the people thinking he had a plan or something. It’s also that quite a few people in this country are religious, and instead of making well thought out, rational decisions, they go with what religion tells them.
I need to agree with Vicky about her disability argument. If a worker is hurt on the job they are given disability. Why shouldn't the soldiers have it as well? Like Vicky said, we can pay the unemployed, the people whose injuries won’t let the work, but we can't pay for the soldiers.
Admittedly no insurance agency in their right mind would cover the army, its corporate suicide. But frankly if the government would learn to spend money a bit more wisely it could be done. We have been at war for what? Six years? Have we seen an increase in our taxes? Nope, we have seen the opposite, tax cuts. How can you afford to cut taxes in the middle of a war? And if we had equipped our soldiers properly, maybe with some armored vehicles, flak jackets, bullet proof windows on their cars, there wouldn't be as many injured. Or at least not as badly injured.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Samanthat Ross. I think that a justice orientated person should definitely help the injured iraqi veteran because they work so hard. They should be also treated equally like we treat ourn soldiers during the war. Since our country is rich and greedy, I think we should be able to help other poor countries who really need it. They should be treated with respect also.

-Simran Kaur

a faller said...

After reading all of the comments, I would have to agree with what Vicki said the most. I think that it is not just our countries duty, but ones moral duty as well, to take care of these wounded soldiers that are coming home from war. I know that the soldiers are getting paid for what they are doing, and that they know the risks involved, but I believe that these soldiers should have a stress free time when they come home. They should be coming back home, and worrying about things such as adapting back to civil society, not stressing about where they are going to sleep at night.

Sorybel Robles said...

With everyone who has blogged so far I seem to agree with Vickie and Alyssa Faller. Our country can only do so much to help the Veterans. Us as a community need to take a stand and help whether is be in our community or state. I feel the country should not tell the people going into war that they would definable get help when their time is done, if they are not completely sure of it. Things need to change and fast the veterans home can only go through so much. I understand that we do keep on re-elect same people and they don't seem to be doing much so how do we get our voices heard to change all of this?

jamaal adams said...

Before reading Samantha, and sorybel comments I felt that it was the person fault and duty to provide for themselves after their call to war. But after reading their comments I feel it is only right that the nation provides for the people who are fighting for them. Also we as a community need to start helping and making programs to provide for the people who fight for our freedom and what our country believes in.

Anonymous said...

This is crazy, how can the government not help them, even though the soliders volunteer to go to war an knew what they were getting them selves into they deserve the proper help. A justice oriented person would do what they feel is right, an hold protests make petitions an things like that, an a particapatory citizen would do what they can do to help on a smaller scale, most likely in there own community, but me on the other hand i am a personally responisible person sure i feel bad but if i dont directly effect me or my family im most likely not gonna do to much to help ................SAM ARTEMCHUK

Anonymous said...

I feel that our country should provide any human being that goes into war because if there able to fight for our country and risk there life then they should have the right and respect to get treated and be healthy if need when its all over and done...If we don't help how does that look its makes you second guess if I'm fighting for my country am I on my own about my health if I need anyy supplies if I'm unwealthy after or hurt...~kristal Atchsion~

kemi ajirotutu said...

I feel that our country should be able to prove health care for our soldiers. When they choose to defend and protect there country. It’s not easy to go and fight a war knowing that you can never see your family any more or u might never be the same because you loose a part of your body.

tobin v. said...

I agree with what Vicki, Samantha and Matt said. I believe that it’s true our soldiers put their lives on the line to serve and protect our nation everyday. Their commitment should be honored and they should get the respect and reward they earned. It’s sad that after contributing so much to the military they do not have the decency to repay these soldiers for their efforts. These brave men and women wish to make a difference in not only in their family’s lives but, in the lives of all the citizens of the US. It’s sad that us the people, not only ignore this issue but many are still unaware of what really happens. I think that the people would most likely make this issue known would be the justice-oriented. They are the people who protest. Like what Matt said, I believe they should send this message to the officials so they can help bring change. I believe the participatory citizens would only focus on their neighborhoods rather than make drastic change. With this information I would focus on voting for an official that shows this issue and tells us that they are dedicated to helping these unfortunate soldiers.

Alex P said...

Its bad enough that these soldiers go into a place where they know they might die or become disfigured. They know that they may never see their families again, but to just sit back and read something like this is unheard of. The government cant just keep taking and taking from these people, not expecting to give anything back in return for their sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

J Dilan

Alex P’s comment is a very good comment. I agree with him when he said, the government takes from people and they think that they have to give anything back to them. I know that there are soldiers who sign up for the army who do it out of the love of there country, but there are those soldiers who do it for the money and the respect that there going to get out of it. Don’t get me wrong they are all heroes, but they should know what they are getting themselves into. I do think that the government should help all soldiers who are sick do to the war. I know that it can be very expensive but we have to find some way to support our veterans.

W Brown said...

Week Late

Anonymous said...

i feel a justice orientated person who comes home and needs help from others should get the right away respect they need because if they saw someone hurt they would do anything thats possible to help that person. even tho it was there idea to go out and fight you have to look at it different they helping us and if we cant do the same in return why should they fight for our country. if they able to risk there life they should get the respect they need when returned home.
kristal atchison

W Brown said...

Closed for Marking Period 1