Wounded soldiers return home to another fight–bill collectors

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The Government Accountability Office is releasing a report tomrorrow that hundreds of American soldiers wounded in Iraq have had their debts turned over to collection agencies.

ABC News tells the story of Army specialist Tyson Johnson, who had just been promoted when a a mortar round exploded outside his tent, wounding him in the left kidney and the head. The injuries forced him out of the Army, which then demanded he repay an enlistment bonus of $2,700 because he had served only two-thirds of his tour. Johnson was unable to return the money, his account was turned over to a collection agency, and he ended up living in his car because of his bad credit record.

ABC also tells the story of Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, who lost his leg in a roadside bomb attack. The Army continued to pay him his $2,000 combat bonus pay while he was hospitalized, and then demanded that he give it back. Kelly says he was threatened with the propect of dealing with a collection agency and having a bad credit report.

Apparently, wounded soldiers are taken off of the battlefield quickly, and the payroll system is not designed to keep up with their change of status. The Army has decided to forgive the debts of soldiers such as Johnson and Kelly. This decision came after ABC aired a program about the issue in the fall of 2004, but according to Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, there may be many more soldiers who have to deal with debt collection because of the faulty system.

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