How Pentagon payroll problems harm wounded veterans

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner
July 10, 2013

A Reuters report exposes massive Pentagon inefficiencies, details of Asiana crash revealed, and U.S.-China cyber talks make progress. Today is Wednesday, July 10, and here’s the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

U.S. Army combat medic Shawn Aiken poses for a portrait as he holds a photo of himself while on patrol in Iraq, in El Paso, Texas, May 20, 2013. Click here for more photos of Aiken’s life at home in Texas.

The battle at home. Months after wounded veteran Shawn Aiken returned from duty as a medic in the U.S. Army, he saw a sharp, unexplained decline in pay from the Department of Defense, leaving him and his family struggling against poverty without recourse. Through a series of errors, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) had docked Aiken’s pay. A Reuters investigation reveals that the department is mired in inefficiencies, wasting a massive amount of government funding and robbing Aiken, and others like him, of benefits they deserve:

 A review of individuals’ military pay records, government reports and other documents, along with interviews with dozens of current and former soldiers and other military personnel, confirms Aiken’s case is hardly isolated. Pay errors in the military are widespread. And as Aiken and many other soldiers have found, once mistakes are detected, getting them corrected – or just explained – can test even the most persistent soldiers… Reuters found multiple examples of pay mistakes affecting active-duty personnel and discharged soldiers. Some are erroneously shortchanged on pay. Others are mistakenly overpaid and then see their earnings drastically cut as DFAS recoups the money, or, like Aiken, they are forced to pay back money that was rightfully theirs.

Watch Aiken tell his story here, and check out the first installment of a Reuters series on the Defense Department’s mishandling of funds.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator in Charge Bill English (R) and Chairman Deborah Hersman discuss the progress of the Asiana Airlines flight 214 investigation in San Francisco, California, in this picture provided by NTSB on July 9, 2013. REUTERS/NTSB/Handout via Reuters

Auto-crash. The pilots who crash-landed an Asiana Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport over the weekend relied on an auto-throttle system to maintain airspeed, neglecting to see that the plane was flying too slowly to land properly until it was too late. Deborah Hersman, head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said on Tuesday that questions remain on the incident:

The South Korean airline’s flight crew members were not tested for drugs or alcohol after the crash, a requirement for pilots of U.S.-based carriers involved in accidents, she said. The accounts given to investigators by the pilots, as relayed by Hersman, confirmed information from the plane’s flight data recorder that showed the plane was traveling 25 percent below its target airspeed as it came in for landing. While she has declined to speculate on the cause of the crash, much of the information released by the NTSB suggests pilot error as a main focus of the investigation.

The pilot manning the flight was in training, and his co-pilot was serving as instructor for the first time. The world’s largest pilots union criticized the investigation for releasing early information on the crash that could fuel “rampant speculation.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) speaks next to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang during the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) Joint Opening Session at the State Department in Washington, July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Cyber progress. U.S.-China talks on cyber security went well, according to Chinese state media, despite NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s recent allegation that the U.S. hacked into key networks at universities in Hong Kong and China:

Cyber security is one of the main topics for high-level talks this week between the world’s two largest economies, as both countries trade accusations about hacking attacks on each other… The talks follow the positive tone struck by President Barack Obama and new Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit last month in California. Nevertheless, Obama demanded Chinese action to halt what he called “out of bounds” cyber spying.

Both the U.S. and China said they would improve communication, and work to increase trust and reduce suspicion. Both countries have faced - and lobbed - accusations of cyber hacking over the past few months, making cyber security a major point of contention.

Nota Bene: Egypt’s prosecutor orders the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leaders for inciting violence as Gulf allies give billions of dollars in aid.

Standouts:

Computed coup - Egyptian computer scientist Ahmed Amer discusses the computer systems behind Mursi’s ouster. (Reuters)

Devoted Drinkers - Architects in Denmark build a Church of Beer. (The Atlantic Cities)

Mother’s milk - A niche breast milk market emerges in China after safety scares. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Snake in the ceiling - Australian police seize a 37-pound python that fell through a shop’s ceiling. (BBC)

Insecure sources - How a filmmaker accidentally gave up his sources to Syrian spooks. (Columbia Journalism Review)

From the File:

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