MN Troops 'Betrayed'; Won't Get Pay Until After Oct. 1
Hundreds of Minnesota National Guard troops, caught in a frustrating ordeal to get bonus payments that were summarily taken away during their year-long deployment to Iraq and Kuwait only to be restored by an act of Congress in May, will have to keep waiting.
The lump-sum payments now will not be paid until after the new federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, according to guidance provided this week from the Department of Defense to the Minnesota National Guard.
"We wish that it would have been done a little bit sooner," Lt. Col. Matt Vatter, chief of personnel for the Minnesota Army National Guard, said in an interview Friday.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first contacted the Pentagon July 6 to inquire about the status of the payments, after hearing from concerned service members that the payments had not arrived and would be smaller than first expected.
Rep. John Kline, also contacted last week by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, spoke to the Defense Department's Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness on Thursday, his office said, to press for full and prompt payment of the Post Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence Program (PDMRA) benefits to an estimated 49,000 troops nationwide.
It was Kline's bill HR4045, supported by the rest of Minnesota's Congressional delegation and signed by President Barack Obama at the end of May, that ordered the Pentagon to grandfather in those 49,000 troops. When 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS contacted the Defense Department last week, the Pentagon had still not implemented the law.
"Our troops deserve better than to fall through the cracks of a broken bureaucratic process," Rep. Kline wrote in a letter to Under Secretary Erin Conaton sent Thursday.
"As a result," of the delay since Kline's bill was passed and signed into law in May restoring the benefits, Kline wrote, "our soldiers are frustrated and feel betrayed by their leadership, and I urge you to do everything you can to help them..."
Spc. Richard Leonard, a nine-year veteran of the Minnesota National Guard and single father from Woodbury, estimates he'll lose about $2,000 because of the delay in processing benefits.
Since the Pentagon did not process the full PDMRA benefits while Leonard and approximately 800 Minnesota guardsmen were still on active duty, the troops will no longer have the option of extra leave - essentially paid time off - at the end of their recent deployment and will instead be offered a lump sum payment, minus a housing allowance and other benefits that are accorded to active-duty troops.
Lt. Col. Vatter estimates that by the time the Pentagon processes the payments, 99 percent of Minnesota troops eligible will no longer be on active duty, and thus will not receive those active-duty benefits.
"It was something that was promised to us and we banked on that. I banked on that, I know for sure," Spc. Leonard said in an interview Friday.
The Minnesota National Guard plans to send a memo soon to all affected guardsmen explaining the new timetable, Lt. Col. Vatter said. The Guard expects to receive more information from Army headquarters after August 10th about the payment process.
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