Saturday, October 01, 2005

At odds over body armor reimbursement

From Christian Science Monitor:

At odds over body armor reimbursement
Pentagon has still not acted to pay back parents a year after Congress 'demanded action.'

By Tom Regan csmonitor.com

More than a year after the US Congress told the Defense Department to reimburse parents who had bought body armor for their sons or daughters serving in Iraq, the Pentagon "still hasn't figured out a way" to reimburse them. The Associated Press reports that soldiers and their parents are still spending "hundreds, sometimes thousands" of dollars on armor that "the military does not provide."
Senator Chris Dodd (D) of Connecticut said he will "again try to force" the Pentagon to obey the reimbursement bill that it "opposed from the outset and has so far not implemented."
[Dodd], said he will offer amendments to the defense appropriations bill working its way through Congress to take the issue out of the hands of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and give control to military unit commanders in the field.
"Mr. Rumsfeld is violating the law," Dodd said. "It's been sitting on the books for over a year. They were opposed to it. It was insulting to them. I'm sorry that's how they felt."

Marine Corp Times reports that under the law passed last October, Congress had until this past Feb. 25 to develop a way to implement the reimbursement plan. The amendment that Dodd had originally added to a military appropriations bills authorized, but did not require, the military to reimburse families up to $1,100 for the purchase of armor and other safety gear "not provided by the military. The Corp Times adds that the Pentagon "never paid a dime," and military officials have said they are still "working on the regulations."
Sen. Dodd has the backing of major military and veteran groups for his plan.
“We share your disappointment that the Defense Department still has not implemented it 11 months after it was enacted,” said retired Vice Adm. Norbert Ryan Jr., president of the Military Officers Association of America.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Michael Cline, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, said the Pentagon’s refusal to pay is hard to understand, given the 91-0 vote by the Senate last year in favor of Dodd’s original proposal ... “How many of those killed [in Iraq and Afghanistan] could have been saved with the proper equipment?” Cline said.The Associated Press reports that one father, who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Gordon, because he feared "retaliation" against his son who is serving in Fallujah, spent over $1,000 two weeks ago to buy lower body armor.
"I wouldn't have cared if it cost us $10,000 to protect our son, I would do it," said Gordon. "But I think the US has an obligation to make sure they have this equipment and to reimburse for it. I just don't support Donald Rumsfeld's idea of going to war with what you have, not what you want. You go to war prepared, and you don't go to war until you are prepared."Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke said Thursday the department "is in the final stages of putting a reimbursement program together and it is expected to be operating soon." But defense officials would not discuss the reason for the delay.
In August the Pentagon announced it was replacing body armor for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to withstand "the strongest of attacks from insurgents." Armor replacement began more than a year ago and will ultimately cost $160 million. The plan would last another year, the Pentagon said at the time, and would "upgrade" the protection used by more than 500,000 soldiers, civilian employees and news media.
USAToday.com reports that the Justice Department has launched a criminal probe into whether Second Chance Body Armor (which the government started working with in 2001) knowingly provided defective bulletproof vest to the military and the White House. The Pentagon had bought some of the vests for "elite troops."
Problems came to light two years ago when the Michigan-based company recalled 130,000 vests because of degradation problems with Zylon, a bullet-resistant fabric used in its vests. The vests were upgraded and returned.
But in June the company issued a bulletin to police departments warning that its vests could fail and result in "serious injury or death." It estimated that about 100,000 of its vests remained in circulation.The company is cooperating with the investigation.
Finally, Newsday reports that Rumsfeld also found himself in trouble with many police departments across America after he compared the "infiltration of insurgents into Iraqi security forces" with "comparable problems" encountered by US police forces. "It's a problem faced by police forces in every major city in our country, that criminals infiltrate and sign up to join the police force," Rumsfeld testified to the Senate Thursday. But a police spokesman felt differently:
"The secretary's comment was flippant and reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about what American police departments are all about," said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations.
"It's absurd to equate the idea that background checks may occasionally miss a shoplifting charge or somebody who smoked dope as a kid with a person who wires themselves with explosives and blows themselves up in a dining hall," he added.


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