War Debts

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," October 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

DAVID ASMAN, GUEST HOST: All of us in the United States owe a great debt to the men and women who fight for our country, particularly those who are wounded in battle. But for a lot of our troops, it's the other way around — they owe America. Hundreds of wounded troops are coming home from battle to face healthcare bills, even petty cash bills from the Pentagon. We're joined now by Sen. Chuck Schumer. He has been looking into all this. He's a Democrat from New York.

Senator, there is a case of a guy named Robert Lauria (search). He lost his hand in combat. He came back and suddenly was getting all these debt collection bills.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NY: Right. He was getting bill after bill. His wife and he — he wasn't even able to take care of them at this time. His wife was distraught; didn't know what to do. And she actually called up the local newspaper.

ASMAN: And they got in touch with you?

SCHUMER: They wrote about it. They didn't even get in touch with me. We read it in Middletown Times-Herald Record, very good newspaper in Orange County. We read about it. And we said, what should we do? So we called his wife. And, boy, oh boy, they were billing him for medical expenses. He had to travel to go from one hospital to another to deal with his — he lost his hand, and part of his forearm. They billed him $2200 for that.

ASMAN: For the travel?

SCHUMER: For the travel, to go from one military hospital to another.

ASMAN: Now, what do you mean, they billed in terms of the ambulance service from one hospital to the other?

SCHUMER: As I recall, there was a plane involved. This was just amazing. Here this man made not quite the ultimate sacrifice, but close enough to it for all of us. And he gets home and what does he get? Not thanks. Not pats on the back. Not oh, we'll help you rehabilitate and find your life, put your life back together, but bills, all kinds of bills.

ASMAN: There are 331 cases, 99 of these have been resolved so more or less at least 232. Is this just a snafu or is this sort of a regular occurrence that needs to be corrected somehow?

SCHUMER: The military is under orders to save dollars wherever they can. And this is simply the wrong place. It's not very much money. And it's demeaning.

It's just demeaning. It's not only an insult and harm to the soldiers who were injured, it's an insult to every soldier.

ASMAN: The army sent us an unclassified memo which explains its side of the story. It says that of the remaining 232 cases, 202 had debts which did not fall under the waiver statute i.e. these cases were not involving pay and allowance concerns. What does that mean?

SCHUMER: I don't know. What about Robert Lauria's travel? Or what about — they have charged them for certain kinds of — I mean the things that they have charged them for were just ridiculous. Travel paperwork. OK? They said he submitted certain — there were missing items in the returned equipment inventory. Oh, yes, the man lost his arm is supposed to gather up all his equipment and return it to the military. I mean, give me a break.

ASMAN: Now, Senator, even those of us who have family in the military, as I do, and love the military as I do, recognize that it's a bureaucracy just like all others.


ASMAN: And has screw ups. The word snafu comes from the military.

SCHUMER: You bet.

ASMAN: Do we just have to eat all this and deal with each individual case?

SCHUMER: No. No, no, the Army should go out of its way and we are legislatively looking into this as well. They've said they corrected it. But they're correcting it in a very broad brush way. I don't know if Robert Lauria's case, what happened actually is George Steinbrenner (search) who, you know —

ASMAN: Owns the New York Yankees.

SCHUMER: Owns the New York Yankees, donated $25,000 to Lauria. So he ended up being OK.

ASMAN: But not all of these 202 cases can do that.

SCHUMER: Exactly. And let's say Lauria's wife hadn't gone to the newspaper and we hadn't read it? Would he still be in this limbo land?

ASMAN: Well, good work, Senator. We have to leave it at that. But keep us in touch. Let us know what happens.

SCHUMER: Thanks, David.

ASMAN: Senator Charles Schumer, we appreciate it.

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