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Money woes on home front

Call-ups often mean lower pay and hardship for National Guard and Reserve troops.

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As the war in Iraq grinds through its third year, one number keeps going up: the number of men and women in Reserve and National Guard units mobilized for active duty. Last week, their ranks swelled again to 139,218.

But these citizen-soldiers are drawing not only tough assignments - they represent some 40 percent of all American troops in Iraq and, so far this month, two-thirds of US fatalities. They also find themselves burdened with financial problems back home. The challenge has become so common that some critics call it the "patriot penalty."

Spc. Blaine Hall of the Army National Guard in Washington State is one example.

Because of government red tape and the on-again, off-again orders for call-up and deployment, he was unable to obtain the government loan that would have allowed him to train someone else to run his bookstore in Gig Harbor, Wash., during the year he spent in Iraq.

"I understand the possibility for deployment can occur at anytime with little notice, and that it is our responsibility to keep our households and business ready for deployment," he told a US Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing at the Army National Guard Armory in Seattle last week. But in the end, he said, "I was forced to close my business and file for bankruptcy."

Staff Sgt. Kevin Romanelli of the Washington State National Guard, who served in Afghanistan, told the hearing of his difficulties in getting medical disability payments. As a result, Sergeant Romanelli said, his family of five is unable to make ends meet.

"I am constantly contacted by bill collectors," he said. "The most difficult thing for me is the hardship that has been imposed on my family."

A financial hit

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