July 2, 2007:
The U.S. Army
has a major morale problem on its hands, and it has nothing to do with combat
or overseas service. This time, it's a purely bureaucratic screw up, having to
do with unpaid insurance premiums, for insurance the troops didn't want. It all
started when the Veterans Administration made available Family Servicemembers'
Group Life Insurance (SGLI). This provides low cost coverage for troops'
spouses and children. Great idea, but the army managed to screw it up by not
getting permission of all the troops before enrolling them in the program. That
was compounded by not collecting premiums for 25,000 troops, for up to six
years. This was a purely administrative error. But now the army is trying to
collect some $25 million from about 26,000 soldiers. Nearly all of them didn't
know they had this insurance, and they are not happy about seeing hundreds of
dollars being deducted from their pay for something they did not agree to buy.
SGLI is not mandatory, but
soldiers were enrolled automatically when they got married. Some have since
gotten divorced, and are being billed to insure a spouse that no longer exists
(as a spouse, anyway). The other services avoided this by making sure that got
the person who was going to pay for SGLI, to sign off on being insured, before
being signed up.
The army is under pressure to
eat the $25 million, otherwise it's not just the 26,000 troops who are paying,
who will be unhappy. Many other soldiers will be demoralized, believing that
there might be some other administrative screw up lurking in the shadows, ready
to bite them in the ass. It's still uncertain if the army will do the right
thing. Sometimes bad things come in bunches.