Army's Denial of Housing Allowances Draws Potential Class-Action Lawsuit

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Photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)
File photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)

STUTTGART, Germany -- The U.S. Army is facing a potential class-action lawsuit on behalf of soldiers who say they were wrongfully indebted because of a housing allowance policy that a military board recently determined broke federal law.

A complaint filed earlier this month in federal claims court contends that Army finance officials in Europe have unlawfully denied mobilized Army reservists the right to both an allowance for their American residence and an overseas allowance when the Army cannot provide on-post accommodations.

Retired Col. Richard Gulley and Maj. Jennifer Walters are the named plaintiffs in the complaint. The case also was filed on behalf of "all others similarly situated," opening the door to hundreds if not thousands of other troops who also were similarly wronged, attorney Patrick Hughes said.

"The fact that this unlawful interpretation has been allowed to perpetuate for over five years now demonstrates the need for continued court intervention to hold the Army accountable and to recover the monies improperly denied to all these soldiers," said Hughes, a former Air Force attorney now with the Patriots Law Group.

For years, reservists received dual allowances when mobilized without their household goods and forced to maintain two residences when the Army was unable to provide base housing.

The Army's "gross negligence to deny this entitlement" was confirmed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which is responsible for paying service members, and the Army's highest level of administrative review, the court complaint states.

On Aug. 27, the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records issued a decision that said the Army was guilty of "unjust actions" because of its incorrect interpretation of the federal Joint Travel Regulation.

The service's mistakes "gave rise to the investigative and disciplinary actions" that "were erroneously executed and erroneously implemented," the decision said.

The Army board was ordered to hear the case by a federal court in connection with a separate lawsuit filed in 2018 on behalf of seven reservists.

Those soldiers, some of whom have since retired or had their careers cut short because of the Army's actions against them, must now be paid what they were denied, according to the board ruling, which also directed the Army to convene a special selection board to determine if they were wrongly denied promotions.

Meanwhile, the Army on Monday refused to comment on whether going forward it intends to offer dual allowances to eligible reservists on assignments overseas, citing pending litigation.

The Army also declined to say whether it has or intends to hold accountable finance officials responsible for the false interpretation of a regulation, which resulted in six-figure debts being imposed on some reservists.

"Who is going to hold these people accountable?" said Gulley, who served as a deputy chief of staff at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart before retiring in 2017.

The Army ordered Gulley to repay $135,500 of his housing allowance. Over a five-year span, Gulley said he faced repeated investigations, harassment and even arrest by Army criminal investigators as a result of errors by service finance officials.

Hughes said the Army continues to break the law by forcing reservists on assignments overseas to choose between either an allowance for their American residence or for off-post housing.

"We will be submitting affidavits to the court from multiple soldiers who are currently on orders as of today who were forced to make that choice themselves or know of others they are presently serving with who were," Hughes said.

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