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Direction Needed On Wounded Meal Fees
By Sandra Jontz
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 19, 2004,

Unless Congress extends a provision to pay for meals for wounded troops staying in hospitals, a temporary provision to cover the $8.10 daily meal fee will expire Sept. 30.

In November, Congress and the White House agreed on a law that exempts some hospitalized troops from paying the meals charge, even while collecting their Basic Allowance for Subsistence.

"The Department awaits further direction on whether the Congress will provide supplemental legislation to extend the exemption beyond fiscal year 2004," said Pentagon spokesman James Turner.

And those who already paid and are waiting to collect on reimbursements must wait a little longer, he said.

"Before reimbursements can be made, the policy has to be completed and published, which will allow appropriate reimbursement determination and payment to affected personnel," Turner said. Officials are aiming for it to be done between April and June.

In the meantime, troops who paid the $8.10 a day for meals are encouraged to save receipts and paperwork in order to help in the collection of those reimbursements once the Pentagon figures out the process.

The provision was included in the $87.5 billion emergency supplemental to continue operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and applies to troops wounded, injured or who become ill while in combat zone or on hazardous duty. It is retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001.

The process isn't as easy as it might appear, said Lt. Col. Carl Smith, deputy director of patient administration at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

As of March 15, Walter Reed has treated about 2,830 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war began; 506 have been battle casualties.

"It's a pretty cumbersome process," Smith said. "We have to come up with a mechanism to identify soldiers [who were charged] and follow them through and find out where they are now."

It also is task of coordinating between offices, Turner said.

"The reimbursement process requires collaboration among the Office of Personnel and Readiness, Health Affairs, the military departments and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service," Turner said.

"The policy will address servicemember- and former-servicemember-identification, validation that the hospitalization qualifies for exemption, and the reimbursement mechanism."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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