March 2, 2006

Legal fight over National Guard pay intensifies

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Four Massachusetts National Guard
soldiers will accuse the U.S. Defense Department and state
officials of selectively refusing to pay travel and hotel
expenses in a new addition on Thursday to a suit over
on-the-job reimbursements since the September 11 attacks.

The lawsuit, initially filed in January, names Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney,
and appears to be the first such suit in the U.S. Army National
Guard, which has faced mounting demands since September 11,
2001, lawyers in the case said.

January's complaint says the National Guard owes the
soldiers for meals, car fuel, hotel costs and daily allowances.

Thursday's amendment to the suit says Massachusetts
National Guard officers deliberately refused to pay the travel
expenses of on-duty soldiers, as way to cut costs.

The guardsmen's lawyer, John Shek, said a senior National
Guard officer may have singled out particular positions which
would not receive expenses and that officers appear to have
known they lacked enough money to meet multiple demands.

Shek also said the soldiers hope the lawsuit will include
at least 1,000 soldiers, seeking more than $100 million total.

Thousands of soldiers in the Guard, a part-time force whose
440,000 members live civilian lives while doing periodic
military training, were mobilized after the September 11
attacks to protect airports, borders and other possible
targets. Tens of thousands also have been deployed from across
the United States to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Massachusetts National Guard spokesman Maj. Winfield
Danielson declined to comment on the new accusations but said
properly compensating soldiers has always been a top priority.

At the heart of the suit is the system of reimbursing Guard
troops who say they traveled hundreds of miles (km) and paid
for their own food, fuel and lodging to perform their duties.

Shek said while most U.S. National Guard soldiers were paid
under federal orders that included daily allowances, hundreds
of troops in Massachusetts were given different orders that
excluded daily allowances but required the same work.

When soldiers complained of discrimination, Shek said many
were told to stop asking or risk being laid off.

Capt. Louis Tortorella, 51, estimates he is owed at least
$54,000 for the two years he worked protecting the Quabbin
Reservoir outside of Boston, about a five-hour commute from his
home in New Hampshire. (Additional reporting by Jason Szep)