ARLINGTON, Va. — Pentagon officials issued a clarification Wednesday, saying
that troops wounded in combat have been exempted permanently from paying for
their meals when staying in military hospitals.
Officials acknowledged they misunderstood the November legislation that made
the change permanent.
As late as mid-March, Pentagon officials said the exemption expired at the
end of the fiscal year, or Sept. 30, and they were awaiting Congress to decide
if it would be extended.
When originally passed in September 2003 as part of the 2004 Defense
Appropriations Act, the exemption was set to expire Sept. 30, 2004, Pentagon
spokesman James Turner said.
But in November, Congress indefinitely extended the exemption.
Troops were paying $8.10 per day for hospital meals if they were wounded or
became ill while supporting the nation's global war on terror, said Health
Affairs spokesman Perry Bishop.
And now, the Pentagon is asking Congress, as part of the 2005 budget request
under consideration, to extend the exemption to all military personnel
hospitalized, not just those in connection with combat, Turner said.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee,
had agitated for a law exempting wounded troops from paying the $8.10 hospital
meals charge, even while collecting their Basic Allowance for Subsistence.
When deployed and not required to eat at a chow hall or meals supplied by the
military, such as Meals Ready to Eat, troops receive Basic Allowance for
Subsistence — money in their regular paychecks for food.
Military hospitals have been charging officers who collect the BAS for their
food since 1958, and enlisted members since 1981 under laws that went into
affect to avoid "double dipping," or getting both the BAS and free hospital
In fiscal 2002, for which the latest data is available, military hospitals
billed servicemembers $1.5 million for meals.
The laws make the provision retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001. However, Pentagon
policy writers still are in the process of drafting the procedures to reimburse
troops who already paid the meals fee. Officials are aiming for it to be done
between April and June, Turner has said.
Sound Off...What do you think?
Join the discussion.
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
Stars & Stripes Website
Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.