Monday, March 19, 2007
Help Me Howard: Army Won't Pay
For some people it is a dream job: serving their country in the U.S. Military. It's dangerous and it takes courage, but you know if something goes wrong the military will be there for you but not always. Not for one South Florida man who got so frustrated with the Army that he gave up and called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- When we met Marcelo and Nicole, they were getting married in two days.
Marcelo Londono: "I don't even have a ring for us. We don't have wedding bands."
And instead of anticipating a wedding, they were filled with worry.
Marcelo Londono: "It's been a struggle for me, but it's been a real heartache for my fiance."
The reason -- they are broke.
Patrick Fraser: "How do you pay bills without a paycheck?"
Marcelo Londono: "We haven't, sir."
Marcelo is in the Army Reserves. On January, he was ordered to go to Fort Bragg for parachute exercises. During one jump, just before he landed, the wind suddenly shifted.
Marcelo Londono: "I had no chance to change. What I had, that's what we call, basically, change my position. I just held what I had, and that's when I hit the floor."
That hit broke Marcelo's tailbone, injured his pelvic bones and left him bedridden. He now has a special cushion for sitting.
But after his commander came to visit him, he was not worried.
Marcelo Londono: "'It's going to be OK, you're going to be taken care of. Your family is here. We won't let you down.'"
Even though Marcelo is in the reserves, when you are injured in the line of duty, the Army is supposed to pay you.
Patrick Fraser: "Are you getting paid by the Army?"
Marcelo Londono: "No, sir."
Patrick Fraser: "Two months?"
Marcelo Londono: "Two months, two months on my wedding day."
And it's been two horrible months waiting for an army check. Marcello can't work at this old company because of his injuries. Nicole's paycheck is not enough to support them.
As a result, FPL turned off their power, and the day we were there they got an eviction notice.
Marcelo Londono: "My fiance comes home and cries at night because the most important day in her life, which is her wedding, and she can't concentrate on that because we might not have a home tomorrow."
Marcello's commmander says he has done everything he can, but no one can get the Army to start sending his paychecks.
Patrick Fraser: "So, the people in the Army can't get an answer from the people in the army?"
Marcelo Londono: "That's basically it, sir."
Make no mistake, Marcello loves the military, and it killed him to call us to ask for help.
Marcelo Londono: "It's very hard for me to feel like I'm tattle-tailing on my family, like I'm being a rat or a snitch. But, at the end of the day, sir, if I have to choose between my career or the livlihood of my family, it's a no-brainer."
But after Marcello and Nicole had to cancel their honeymoon, Marcello got fed up and asked us to step in to see why the Army is not giving him what they promised -- a paycheck.
Howard Finkelstein: "Our soldiers should not be treated like this. Legally, Marcello cannot draw disablity from the state. His money has to come from the Army since he was injured in the line of duty, and for a wounded soldier to have to wait so long he gets an eviction notice is very sad."
When I spoke to the Army they did move quickly. They told me Marcello was eligible for incapacitated pay, but that they had to do research.
When I asked why they needed to do so much research I was told reserve soldier pay is different than active duty, and they wanted to make sure Marcello received the maximum amount.
Marcelo Londono: "Phone calls that Mr. Fraser did got things rolling."
Two days later, Marcello and Nicole had the wedding their families had helped pay for.
Marcelo Londono: "We had a good time, and Nicole had a great time. At the end of the day, that was my biggest concern."
Three days after that, Marcello got his pay for January. I was told February's was on the way and March was being processed. That made him happy, but...
Marcelo Londono: "It's sad that it came to this. It's sad I had to go outside the family to get some kind of help. But, hey, at the end of the day, I was able to keep my home and pay my bills, so it's good. It feels good."
Patrick Fraser: "Marcello is not alone -- thousands of soldiers who were injured are having problems with this pay. So many problems that congress begun to investigate the Army's payroll system. To put it politely, it needs work, and an injured soldier should not be suffering.
Pay to roll a problem out of your way? Relax and contact us -- we're free, won't cost you a dime and, more often than not, we'll help you cash in -- or, in Marcello's case, cash a check.
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