Reservists fighting to clear names in Housing Allowance Fraud investigation

 
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Reservists fighting to clear names in Housing Allowance Fraud investigation

This is a bit of an odd one, from Stripes:

A few hours before he was lauded by U.S. Africa Command brass for a 30-year military career that culminated in helping run day-to-day operations at his Stuttgart headquarters, Richard Gulley [on right in picture above] was read his rights, fingerprinted and treated like a crook by Army investigators.

Gulley, a reservist colonel with top secret clearances and a seat at the table on discussions about some of AFRICOM’s most sensitive missions, stood accused of getting a housing allowance for which Army finance officials say he wasn’t qualified.

But Gulley, like a growing number of reservists who have been snared in a dispute with the Army over their right to certain living allowances, says he is the victim of an investigative process in Europe that has run amok, as finance officials and agents from the Criminal Investigation Command are operating with little oversight.

“This is a complete dereliction of duty. I want them to know I will never stop fighting until my name is cleared,” Gulley said.

His case is much like that of seven Army Reserve officers who filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Army in April, accusing the service of “gross negligence” for withholding basic allowance for housing, or BAH, and imposing debts for past payments received. Like Gulley, the soldiers were criminally processed, accused of larceny and fraud and issued general officer reprimands.

 I’m going to start with the end here.  If you aren’t familiar with “general officer reprimands,” and let’s hope you are not, it will be a career killer to these guys.  As the article notes later on regarding another such officer, “In addition, an administrative flag has prevented Gardiner from signing up for required military education in order to get promoted. A letter of reprimand placed in his permanent file is ‘effectively killing my career,’ he said.”

So whether they did anything wrong is somewhat immaterial to the fact that none of them will ever get promoted, thus ending their time in service.

So what is it they did that was so heinous?  They got activated to Federal Duty and sent to Germany.  Because it isn’t a permanent change of duty station, they qualified for the basic allowance for housing which is a stipend you receive when activated to help pay the costs of your mortgage or rent back home for your family while you are away.  So far no problem, but when they got to Germany, the base didn’t have sufficient housing available, so they were told to get off base housing, using a different stipend, the OHA or Overseas Housing Allowance.  They are two different things entire, but apparently finance and the criminal investigation people felt differently.

From Stripes again:

When reservists mobilize overseas, they receive BAH because they cannot work the civilian jobs that pay their mortgages and rent. They also receive overseas housing allowance when ordered by the Army to live off post, as the plaintiffs were in Germany because of a lack of available housing. Most full-time troops get one or the other.

The benefit for reservists are spelled out in the Joint Federal Travel Regulations, which govern how allowances are paid: “A Service member called/ordered to active duty in support of a contingency operation is authorized primary residence-based BAH/OHA beginning on the first active duty day . . . This rate continues for the duration of the tour.”

Typical fraud cases involve soldiers using a false home of record to obtain a higher BAH rate, claiming dependents when there are none or using false rental contracts to get higher OHAs.

Again, this isn’t the typical fraud, this Colonel availed himself of two different housing allowances that he was authorized to have.  If he had stayed on base, no problem, but the base housing was already full.  You certainly can’t hold him personally accountable for that.

And yet they have.  The Army has taken back what it considers overpayment (to the tune of $103,000) from Colonel Gulley.  Gulley notes that actions like this are what make Reservists and Guardsmen feel like second-class citizens in the military.

This is somewhat similar to what happened to some Marine Reservists a while back:

Nearly 300 Marines came home from their seven-month deployment to Central America this week. They have a few things in tow — wood carvings from local artisans and the grit of experience responding to Hurricane Matthew, among the world’s worst recent natural disasters.

But the reservists returned without something that most were counting on: seven months of GI Bill benefits.

A relatively new and obscure deployment code, a measure the Pentagon created in 2014 to scale back spending on benefits, is the reason. By law, reservists involuntarily mobilized under Title 10, section 12304b, do not receive credit for the GI Bill while they are activated.

Look, I am generally all for investigations into fraud, especially in the military and the VA where because of the huge numbers of individuals involved you will always be able to make enough savings from finding it to warrant the investigation.  But according to stripes, the OHA/BHA investigations have nabbed between 140-350 Reservists, who at the least had no idea they were doing anything wrong, and almost certainly weren’t actually doing anything wrong as near as anyone can determine from the article.

If the military is going to be a family of active, reserve and guard components, we have to be a regular family, not the kind that end up appearing on Dr. Phil.

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Oddly enough, we rarely see reports of major crimes in Germany so it seems logical to assume Army CID is chomping at the bit to validate their existence and Finance seemed to have provided a in for them to investigate soldier (innocent soldiers). As stated in the first comment, the true crime is that these officers won't ever be promoted and the stress they've gone though is hard to quantify. I hope they fight until the Army fixes this injustice for them and brings those responsible to justice and are given equal or more severe punishment as they have inflicted on these seven and maybe 350 fold for the total soldiers/officers whose life they've negatively affected. Just my two cents for what it's worth.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.