Gaps in Pay and Benefits Create Financial Hardships for Injured Army National Guard and Reserve Soldiers
GAO-05-322T: Published: Feb 17, 2005. Publicly Released: Feb 17, 2005.
In light of the recent mobilizations associated with the Global War on Terrorism, GAO was asked to determine if the Army's overall environment and controls provided reasonable assurance that soldiers who were injured or became ill in the line of duty were receiving the pay and other benefits to which they were entitled in an accurate and timely manner. This testimony outlines pay deficiencies in the key areas of (1) overall environment and management controls, (2) processes, and (3) systems. It also focuses on whether recent actions the Army has taken to address these problems will offer effective and lasting solutions.
Injured and ill reserve component soldiers--who are entitled to extend their active duty service to receive medical treatment--have been inappropriately removed from active duty status in the automated systems that control pay and access to medical care. The Army acknowledges the problem but does not know how many injured soldiers have been affected by it. GAO identified 38 reserve component soldiers who said they had experienced problems with the active duty medical extension order process and subsequently fell off their active duty orders. Of those, 24 experienced gaps in their pay and benefits due to delays in processing extended active duty orders. Many of the case study soldiers incurred severe, permanent injuries fighting for their country including loss of limb, hearing loss, and back injuries. Nonetheless, these soldiers had to navigate the convoluted and poorly defined process for extending active duty service. The Army's process for extending active duty orders for injured soldiers lacks an adequate control environment and management controls--including (1) clear and comprehensive guidance, (2) a system to provide visibility over injured soldiers, and (3) adequate training and education programs. The Army has also not established user-friendly processes--including clear approval criteria and adequate infrastructure and support services. Many Army locations have used ad hoc procedures to keep soldiers in pay status; however, these procedures often circumvent key internal controls and put the Army at risk of making improper and potentially fraudulent payments. Finally, the Army's nonintegrated systems, which require extensive errorprone manual data entry, further delay access to pay and benefits. The Army recently implemented the Medical Retention Processing (MRP) program, which takes the place of the previously existing process in most cases. MRP, which authorizes an automatic 179 days of pay and benefits, may resolve the timeliness of the front-end approval process. However, MRP has some of the same issues and may also result in overpayments to soldiers who are released early from their MRP orders. Out of 132 soldiers the Army identified as being released from active duty, 15 improperly received pay past their release date--totaling approximately $62,000.