Pay problems are prevalent for troops

By Tom Philpott: Military Update

Systemic pay problems that added to the hassle of mobilization for tens of thousand of Army Reserve and National Guard members since 9/11 have largely been corrected and should not hit the next rotation of reserve forces into Iraq and Afghanistan, says a senior defense pay official.
Patrick T. Shine, director of military and civilian pay services for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis, said the Army and DFAS have worked to end staffing shortages and processing errors that congressional auditors found to be widespread and harmful to morale.
The Government Accountability Office, in separate reports in November and July, found more than 90 percent of soldiers in activated Army Guard and Reserve units they studied had experienced significant pay problems, mostly overpayments but also underpayments and delays.
GAO said the errors “often had a profound adverse impact on individual soldiers and their families” and were not easy to correct, hanging over some reservists for more than a year. Many soldiers said they had spent a considerable amount of their time while deployed, in remote and hostile environments, seeking help to understand their pay and trying to correct errors. Few received combat-zone tax exemptions on time.
Shine, in a phone interview, said GAO correctly categorized three types of pay problems, involving staffing, processes and an obsolete pay system. The first two have been addressed, he said. The third, replacing what Shine described as “a 1969-vintage COBOL software program” will take longer, until March, to install even a temporary fix.
But Shine said real improvements in finance administration and pay processes — within units, at mobilization and demobilization sites, and at DFAS — combined with other safeguards to ensure accuracy, should make the delay in overall pay system reform invisible to deploying forces.
He wants troops to know, he said, “that at the home station, at the mobilization site and when they’re in country, they are going to find trained finance people all along the way,” Shine said.
GAO said reserve pay processes and controls for activated units were “inherently flawed.”
It criticized a lack of accountability over soldiers and their pay at almost every turn during mobilization. Sloppy procedures in documenting whether soldiers were still overseas resulted in numerous overpayments, particularly of hardship duty pay, GAO said.
The current Defense Joint Military Pay System (DJMS) actually is two systems, one for active duty members and one for reserves. The reserve system, Shine said, “was designed just to pay people for weekend drills once a month and two weeks active-duty-for-training once a year.”
It can be used to pay activated forces, Shine said, but “it requires more manual intervention‚” which raises the risk of errors.
Errors blossomed during early troop rotations into Afghanistan and Iraq in part because few reserve units arrived with finance teams trained to work their cumbersome pay system. Pay problems weren’t prevalent for reserve forces sent to Bosnia and Kosovo because the Army used only two mobilization sites, both appropriately staffed.
For Iraq, it needed 26 sites and didn’t have enough reserve pay experts to support them all.
The long-term solution is the Defense Integrated Military Human Resource System (DIMHRS) which will combine into a single network all military pay and personnel systems, active and reserve.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at:
milupdate@aol.com