Under pressure from Congress, the Pentagon issued overdue regulations yesterday for reimbursing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for body armor and other gear they bought to protect themselves.
The program, which is effective immediately, would allow reimbursement for combat helmets, ballistic eye protection, hydration systems and tactical vests, including a variety of body armor inserts to protect the throat, groin and collar.
The guidelines, from Undersecretary Of Defense David S.C. Chu, come nearly a year after Congress passed legislation ordering the reimbursement policy. That law required the Pentagon to issue the rules by Feb. 25 of this year.
Under the guidelines, reimbursement for each individual item cannot exceed $1,100, and the items become government property and must be turned over to the Defense Department, unless they are destroyed or no longer usable. The purchase must have been between Sept. 10, 2001, and Aug. 1, 2004, and the soldier must not have been issued equivalent government equipment.
Senators, unhappy with the Pentagon's slow progress, approved an amendment to a defense spending bill yesterday that would further expand the program. The measure would also take the money decision out of the hands of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and give control to military unit commanders in the field.
Condemning the new program as too little, too late, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said the Pentagon's list is too restrictive and does not include critical safety equipment such as gun scopes, additional Humvee armor and radios.
"The Pentagon's leadership has done everything in its power to stop this measure from being implemented," Dodd said. "Why should they stop now?"
Last week, Marine Sgt. Todd Bowers, whose parents bought him a high-tech rifle scope, said that the extra piece of equipment saved his life, and that a $100 pair of goggles he bought saved his eyesight when he was shot by a sniper.
"If you need any proof that [the Pentagon] is once again coming up short, all you need to do is take a look at the list of reimbursable items," Dodd said. "It does not include the gun scope that saved Todd Bowers's life."
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Warner (R-Va.), urged support for Dodd's amendment. But Warner asked that lawmakers work together to set a new end date for the program, possibly in 2006. The amendment passed by a voice vote.
Pentagon officials have opposed the reimbursement idea, calling it "an unmanageable precedent that will saddle the DOD with an open-ended financial burden."
In his memo, Chu said that the secretaries of the military services may request that other equipment be added to the list.