Don't penalize injured soldiers

Friday, September 19, 2003

Although it seems terribly unfair, members of the U. S. Armed Forces are being charged for meals during hospital stays. The practice dates back to 1981, when a law was passed requiring sick and injured soldiers to reimburse the government for meals received during their hospital stays. The basis for this is the daily meal payment that members of the military receive. When members of Congress passed the law, they reasoned that since the government was feeding the soldiers while they were in the hospital, the meal money should be returned to Uncle Sam.

However, when troops were placed in harm's way by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a number of senators and representatives recognized the injustice of the rule, and are leading efforts to get the law changed. The legislation, which was introduced Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, calls for the U.S. to pay the cost of meals for soldiers injured while in combat or in training for combat. The legislation also would require that meal costs be paid for military personnel who get ill while in combat situations, such as the current cases of pneumonia and malaria. Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives. The U.S. Senators from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson, joined as co-sponsors of the Graham's bill. In announcing his support, Nelson declared: "I understand that the military is trying to cut costs, but to literally charge a soldier for hospital meals while they are being treated for injuries sustained protecting their country -- it is just ridiculous." Nelson went on to say, "It's time to put a stop to shaking down injured and sick troops for lunch money."

Sen. Hagel was also strong in his support of the legislation. "We ask our men and women to make the ultimate sacrifice, but we are not fulfilling our commitment to them. The United States government has a responsibility to support our troops while they are in harm's way and when they return home. Certainly, America has the responsibility to take care of our men and women who have been wounded or are casualties of war. The problem will be solved," he said. Military men and women currently receive $8.10 per day to pay for meals. While paying for meals is the purpose, over time the GI's begin regarding the money as part of their regular pay package. That can cause major financial problems for soldiers with extended hospital stays. As explained by Sen. Nelson, "Lengthy hospital stays can leave soldiers with bills totaling many thousands of dollars."

The senators are right to lead the fight to change the practice of charging for meals while soldiers are hospitalized. The ill and injured military men and women have already sacrificed for their country. They shouldn't be penalized over and above that by having to pay the cost of their meals.

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