The Oct. 14 front-page story, "For Injured U.S. Troops, 'Financial Friendly Fire'; Flaws in Pay System Lead to Dunning, Credit Trouble," was a reminder that supporting our troops requires more than equipping and training them. Congress has moved often to help ease the financial burden on our troops, but it can do more.
Having been involved in managing out-of-service debts for Army personnel, I believe that three critical actions would reduce the effect debt has on injured servicemen and women.
* Debts, for the most part, are created by lack of timely reporting of changes in status. A computer system that automatically links pay and personnel records would improve only part of the process. Timely reporting begins at the unit and personnel support offices, which may delay reporting for various and often valid reasons. Nonetheless, delays create overpayments and uncollected overpayments create debts. The system referred to in the story is not a panacea, but part of the solution -- and even an 80 percent solution is better than what is in place.
* Once established, debts require due process to determine validity and a repayment plan. Exceptions allowing debt waiver are highly regulated, and injury in combat is not on the automatic list. Congress can fix this by legislating the waiver criteria.
* Today, a waived debt creates income for the recipient that must be reported to the IRS, with taxes paid on the amount, regardless of what type of entitlement created the debt. Congress should change the law that requires that debts waived for these individuals be reported as income. Otherwise, their recovery and return will still cause financial pain.
Bemoaning the problem and pronouncements of outrage do not resolve the issues; action is needed to correct inequities that would exist even if personnel and pay systems worked correctly.
STEPHEN L. WILLIAMS