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Wounded in battle, he was later shortchanged on his pay by the Pentagon. Army medic Shawn Aiken was once again locked in desperate battle with a formidable foe.
Not insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan - enemies he had already encountered with distinguished bravery. This time, he was up against the U. Aiken, then 30 years old, was in his second month of physical and psychological reconstruction at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, after two tours of combat duty had left him shattered.
His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder PTSDabnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain, and a hip injury.
But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. Aiken had no money. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. He quickly raised the issue with staff.
It only got worse. All Aiken knew was that the Defense Department was taking back money it claimed he owed. Beyond that, "they couldn't even tell me what the debts were from," he says. At the time, Aiken was living off base with his fiancee, Monica, and her toddler daughter, while sharing custody of his two children with his ex-wife.
As their money dwindled, the couple began hitting church-run food pantries. Aiken took out an Army Emergency Relief Loan to cover expenses of their December move into a new apartment. At Christmas, Operation Santa Claus provided the family with presents - one for each child, per the charity's rules.
Eventually, they began pawning their possessions - jewelry, games, an iPhone, and even the medic bag Aiken used when saving lives in Afghanistan.
The couple was desperate from "just not knowing where food's going to come from," he says. And then you have to fight to get the money back. He limped from office to office to press his case to an unyielding bureaucracy.
With short-term and long-term memory loss, he struggled to keep appointments and remember key dates and events. His PTSD symptoms alienated some staff. The money the military took back from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep.
Further, even after Aiken complained, the Defense Department didn't return the bulk of the money to Aiken until after Reuters inquired about his case.
It is responsible for accurately paying America's 2. It often fails at that task, a Reuters investigation finds. A review of individuals' military pay records, government reports and other documents, along with interviews with dozens of current and former soldiers and other military personnel, confirms Aiken's case is hardly isolated.
Pay errors in the military are widespread. And as Aiken and many other soldiers have found, once mistakes are detected, getting them corrected - or just explained - can test even the most persistent soldiers see related story.
Some are erroneously shortchanged on pay. Others are mistakenly overpaid and then see their earnings drastically cut as DFAS recoups the money, or, like Aiken, they are forced to pay money that was rightfully theirs.
Precise totals on the extent and cost of these mistakes are impossible to come by, and for the very reason the errors plague the military in the first place: The DFAS accounting system still uses a half-century-old computer language that is largely unable to communicate with the equally outmoded personnel management systems employed by each of the military services.
When Shawn Aiken sought answers about the deductions from his pay, "they couldn't even tell me what the debts were from," he says.
Yet the Pentagon is literally unable to account for itself. As proof, consider that a law in effect since requires annual audits of all federal agencies - and the Pentagon alone has never complied.
It annually reports to Congress that its books are in such disarray that an audit is impossible. In this series, Reuters will delve into how an organization that fields the most sophisticated technology in the world to fight wars and spy on enemies has come to rely on an accounting system of antiquated, error-prone computers; how these thousands of duplicative and inefficient systems cost billions of dollars to staff and maintain; how efforts to replace these systems with better ones have ended in costly failures; and how it all adds up to billions of taxpayer dollars a year in losses to mismanagement, theft and fraud.
For all its errors, Pentagon record-keeping is an expensive endeavor.Find the latest career opportunities in NYC. Search for full time, part time, temporary, and freelance media jobs in New York.
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Get the latest Nashville Predators and NHL news, schedule, photos, scores, playoff updates and more from The Tennessean. Behind the Pentagon's doctored ledgers, a running tally of epic waste. A reader recently sent me one of the best cover letters I've ever seen, and she nicely agreed to allow me to reprint it here in case it inspires anyone els.
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