Troops Face Financial Crises After Learning Army Overpaid Them During Hospitalization
By BRIAN ROSS, ABC News
Jan. 31, 2006 — - It was one of the thousands of roadside bombs in Iraq that paralyzed Staff Sgt. Eugene Simpson.
"My first instinct was to jump farther back into the Humvee, you know, for protection," Simpson said. "But in doing that, I opened my back up to all the scrap metal and debris, which hit my spine and severed my spine, paralyzing me."
He was soon on a plane home.
Fast-working, skilled Army doctors saved his life, as they have so many.
Slow, bumbling Army bureaucrats would make his life miserable, as they have so many.
"And the military basically is, like, they turn their back on you, you kind of feel that you've just been used," Simpson said.
No Pay for Four Months
It started with a phone call from his wife, home with their four children. She didn't have enough money to pay the bills.
"And she was like, well, we haven't been paid," Simpson said. "And you know, instantly I was like, I don't know what to do. You know, I'm still in the hospital. I can't actually get up and go around and talk to these different people."
And until "Nightline" inquired at the Pentagon, Simpson said he could not find out what happened.
"Every day is something different," he said. "Well, this person isn't in. I'll have them call you back, give it a couple days. Couple days go by, I call back, well I got somebody else for you to talk to. And days lead to weeks, and weeks lead to months."
It turns out the Army had mistakenly continued to pay Simpson a combat duty bonus while he was in the hospital.
He had been overpaid thousands of dollars, and the Army wanted the money back.
"By law, he's not entitled to the money," said Col. Richard Shrank, "so he must pay it back."
Shrank said although that is the law, soldiers can apply for debt forgiveness if they believe the debt is a mistake. So far, more than 800 soldiers have done so. More than 600 of those requests have been granted, amounting to more than $600,000.
So, the Army said it withheld the paralyzed soldier's pay until it got back the amount he owed -- with no advance notice, Simpson said.
"Four months," he said. "I didn't get paid for four months."