Spc. Robert Loria is stuck at Fort Hood, Texas
Middletown – He lost his arm serving his country in Iraq.
Now this wounded soldier is being discharged from his company in Fort Hood, Texas, without enough gas money to get home. In fact, the Army says 27-year-old Spc. Robert Loria owes it close to $2,000, and confiscated his last paycheck.
"There's people in my unit right now – one of my team leaders [who was] over in Iraq with me, is doing everything he can to help me .... but it's looking bleak," Loria said by telephone from Fort Hood yesterday. "It's coming up on Christmas and I have no way of getting home."
Loria's expected discharge yesterday came a day after the public got a rare view of disgruntled soldiers in Kuwait peppering Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with questions about their lack of adequate armor in Iraq.
Like many soldiers wounded in Iraq, Loria's injuries were caused by a roadside bombing. It happened in February when his team from the 588th Battalion's Bravo Company was going to help evacuate an area in Baqubah, a town 40 miles north of Baghdad. A bomb had just ripped off another soldier's arm. Loria's Humvee drove into an ambush.
When the second bomb exploded, it tore Loria's left hand and forearm off, split his femur in two and shot shrapnel through the left side of his body. Months later, he was still recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and just beginning to adjust to life without a hand, when he was released back to Fort Hood.
AFTER SEVERAL MORE MONTHS, the Army is releasing Loria. But "clearing Fort Hood," as the troops say, takes paperwork. Lots of it.
Loria thought he'd done it all, and was getting ready to collect $4,486 in final Army pay.
Then he was hit with another bomb. The Army had another tally – of money it says Loria owed to his government.
A Separation Pay Worksheet given to Loria showed the numbers: $2,408.33 for 10 months of family separation pay that the Army erroneously paid Loria after he'd returned stateside, as a patient at Walter Reed; $2,204.25 that Loria received for travel expenses from Fort Hood back to Walter Reed for a follow-up visit, after the travel paperwork submitted by Loria never reached the correct desk. And $310 for missing items on his returned equipment inventory list.
"There was stuff lost in transportation, others damaged in the accident," Loria said of the day he lost his hand. "When it went up the chain of command, the military denied coverage."
Including taxes, the amount Loria owed totaled $6,255.50. The last line on the worksheet subtracted that total from his final Army payout and found $1,768.81 "due us."
"It's nerve-racking," Loria said. "After everything I have done, it's almost like I am being abandoned, like, you did your job for us and now you are no use. That's how it feels."
AT HOME in Middletown, yesterday, Loria's wife, Christine, was beside herself.
"They want us to sacrifice more," she said, her voice quavering. "My husband has already sacrificed more than he should have to."
For weeks now, Christine has been telling her 3-year-old son, Jonathan, that Robbie, who is not his birth father, will be coming home any day now.
But the Army has delayed Loria's release at least five times already, she said, leaving a little boy confused and angry.
"Rob was supposed to be here on Saturday," she said. "Now [Jonathan] is mad at me. How do you explain something you yourself don't understand?"
Christine said the Department of Veterans Affairs has been helpful in giving Loria guidance about how to get his life back on track, offering vocation rehabilitation to "teach them to go back out in the world with the limitations they have."
But the Army brass has been unreceptive, she said.
The Lorias also contacted the offices of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Saugerties. Hinchey's office responded.
"There's enough to go on here to call the Army on it and see if it can get worked out," said Hinchey aide Dan Ahouse. "We are expressing to the Pentagon that based on what we see here, we don't see that Mr. Loria is being treated the way we think our veterans returning from Iraq should be treated."
Army officials at Fort Hood could not be reached for comment yesterday.
"I don't want this to happen to another family," Christine Loria said. "Him being blown up was supposed to be the worst thing, but it wasn't. That the military doesn't care was the worst."
The end of her rope
Christine Loria was at the end of her rope earlier this week when she called her wounded husband's commanders at Fort Hood, Texas, and gave them a piece of her mind.
The Army was discharging her husband, Robert, after he lost his arm and suffered other severe injuries in Iraq, without even gas money to drive his car home.
"I am up here and he's there. That's 1,800 miles away," she said. "I had to call his chain of command and scream at them."
Their reaction she said, was "very mature."
"If he feels that way, why is his wife talking for him? Why doesn't he come talk to us himself?" she remembers them asking her.
"Because on some level, he still respects you," she answered. "I don't have that problem."
Who to call to help
Outraged about Army Spc. Robert Loria's plight? Speak your mind. Below are contact numbers for federal legislators and defense officials.
U.S. Senate: Hillary Clinton: 202-224-4451; Charles Schumer: 212-486-4430 email
U.S. House of Representatives: Maurice Hinchey: 845-344-3211; Sue Kelly: 845-897-5200
Secretary of Defense: Donald Rumsfeld: 703-692-7100
Fort Hood: Major General James D. Thurman: 254-288-2255 or Fort Hood operator at 254-287-1110; Public Information Officer Jim Whitmeyer: 254-287-0103