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Gaffe may shortchange wounded vets

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Thursday, April 7, 2011
 

For more than five years, thousands of wounded and injured military reservists and National Guard troops nationwide might have lost medical benefits because of a Pentagon mistake, according to an investigation by Sen. Ron Wyden.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Oregon Democrat said that many wounded troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq who ended up in Warrior Transition Units at military bases or in community-based programs near their homes lost up to six months of medical coverage that's provided to them under a 2005 law.

The Transition Assistance Management Program, or TAMP, was supposed to help personnel returning from active duty get the medical care they needed before their civilian coverage kicked in. The problem was that the Pentagon began counting the 180 days of coverage the moment the troops returned to the United States, not once they left active duty.

Those who needed extensive care in the Warrior Transition Units often exhausted their six months of benefits before they went home, according to Wyden. Pentagon paperwork leaked last year to the Tribune-Review showed that the typical reservist or Guard member will spend about a year in the special medical units, or longer if they're in a community-based program.

While many of those troops received federal medical insurance in retirement packages, others didn't. Neither Wyden nor the Pentagon can estimate exactly how many thousands lost out on the care they needed.

Wyden called on Gates to immediately revise the regulations, which affect reserve personnel in all the military branches.

"It is inexcusable that these servicemembers are being denied the benefits they have earned through their sacrifice," Wyden wrote.

Marine Corps Col. David C. Lapan, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said staffers were unaware of Wyden's letter but were looking into the findings.

Veterans service organizations, including the American Legion and Reserve Officers Association, expressed concern that troops might have been shortchanged.

"It is disheartening that the Pentagon sanctions a policy that deprives National Guard and reserve men and women (of) health care benefits from a country for which ... they have served and fought," said retired Navy Capt. Marshall Hanson, director of legislative services for the Reserve Officers Association.

"Legal technicalities are disrespecting our Guard and reserve heroes, and demonstrate, once again, there is not parity between the active and reserve serving member," he said.

The Trib reported in a three-day series in February about problems at many of the Army's Warrior Transition Units. To view the "Wounded Warriors" series, visit triblive.com .

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