Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Citizen soldiers deserve
financial assistance


Congress and the Legislature are considering measures to combat financial problems of National Guard and Reserve troops.

MEMBERS of the National Guard and Reserve were cognizant of the sacrifices they would be forced to make if called to active duty, but many were unprepared for the money problems resulting from the lengthy duration of present deployments. Assistance offered in proposals before Congress and the state Legislature is to keep these citizen soldiers financially afloat while they risk their lives in Afghanistan or Iraq.

A proposal by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh would provide annual payments of up to $50,000 for active-duty Guard and Reserve members and tax breaks of up to $15,000 to companies that supplement the incomes of employees called to service in the Middle East. The Legislature is considering a series of bills that would create a relief fund for Reserve and Guard families and provide a tax credit of 5 percent, up to $1,000, to private employers that are paying the difference between a soldier's civilian wages and military pay.

About half the troops in Iraq are guardsmen and reservists, but not all are being forced to endure what Bayh calls the "patriot penalty." A congressional study in November 2003 found that 30 percent are making the same wages in the Middle East as they were as civilians, and 29 percent are paid even more, but 41 percent were dealt a pay cut when becoming full-time soldiers.

A Pentagon survey estimated that 15 percent of the 2,200 Hawaii residents who were called into activity duty last year would experience financial hardship. Some companies, such as Servco Pacific and Big Save supermarkets on Kauai, are generously making up the pay differential for deployed employees and continuing health and dental benefits for their families.

"These companies deserve to be recognized for doing the right thing without being asked or hoping for special praise," Bayh said of several Indiana employers doing the same. "I hope more companies will follow their lead."

However, not all companies can afford such benevolence, and many of the deployed troops were self-employed as civilians. In an extreme case, Dr. Anthony Carter closed his family medical practice in a small town in Kentucky and laid off his 10 employees, including his wife, a nurse, when he was called to serve nine months in Afghanistan in 2003. He had to borrow money to reopen his practice.

The proposed tax incentives and wage supplements not only would provide deserved assistance to the deployed troops but could help the National Guard's recruitment effort. Lt. Gen. Roger C. Schultz, chief of the Guard, testified before Congress earlier this month that it had met only 56 percent of its January recruitment quota. Those ranks, comprising the first defense in the war against terrorism, should not be diminished.

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