Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy Memorial Day?

Soldier shot in Iraq billed for missing military gear

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Gary Pfleider II served his country for six years before he became a member of the new generation of disabled veterans.

Pfleider, a former Oregon National Guard soldier, was shot by a sniper while on patrol in Iraq in September 2007. He has only vague memories of the event, but now must live with a permanent reminder -- a brace he'll have to wear on his leg for the rest of his life.

"I remember grabbing a hold of my leg, and realizing I had blood on my hands," he said. "And from that point on until I got loaded onto the Stryker was just a big blur."

Three days after he was shot, Pfleider received a Purple Heart.

Almost two years later, he received a bill from the military for missing equipment.

The sum of the bill, which includes interest, is $3,175. It itemizes a list of gear the military issued to Pfleider that did not come back with his unit in 2008. The lists includes clothing items, canteens and grenades.

Pfleider, who now walks with a cane, believes the items were lost after he was flown out of the country for medical treatment. He doesn't believe he should be held responsible for the items, but the military disagrees.

The federal government has been deducting money from his disability check each month to cover the billed costs. And Pfleider said the feds withheld his tax return for the same reason.

Capt. Stephan Bomar with the Oregon National Guard said the bill was issued by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where Pfleider spent a year recovering from his injury. Bomar added it is customary for soldiers in Pfleider's situation to be billed for missing equipment.

"It's one of the processes. That way, we keep good accountability for the equipment," he said.

Bomar said Pfleider should submit a sworn statement explaining his situation and requesting reimbursement.

But Pfleider has already done that. He still has a copy of his sworn statement, which he signed and submitted at the Albany, Oregon armory in February. The former soldier fears his case is lost in a pile of paperwork between Oregon and Washington.

"Honestly, I do. I think it's just sitting somewhere on somebody's desk at Fort Lewis, and they just don't want to mess with it because they don't think it's a big enough issue," he said.

But to Pfleider, who is scheduled to undergo his ninth leg surgery, the delay is an additional source of stress.

"To me, it's my livelihood," he said.

The veteran is still battling with flashbacks, and trying to adjust to civilian life. He said he never thought he'd have to fight the military once he returned home.

"Car going down a road, backfiring -- it still sends me into flashbacks of being over there. But I deal with it, because I know it's part of my life that's never going to leave," he said.

Lewis-McChord officials said they're looking into Pfleider's charges. Bomar said unless the charges are found to be erroneous, Pfleider will still have to pay the full sum.