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Fairness to POW Questioned

Shoshana Johnson deserves benefits comparable to Jessica Lynch's, supporters say.

October 25, 2003|From Associated Press

EL PASO — The father of former prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson on Friday accused the Army of shortchanging his daughter of disability benefits after she was offered a smaller paycheck than fellow POW Jessica Lynch.

"She is not getting what she deserves," Claude Johnson said.

Family members confirmed that Lynch, a private first class who was snatched from her Iraqi captors on April 1 in a rescue by Special Forces, is receiving an 80% disability. Johnson, a specialist who was released on April 13 with four other American POWs, has been offered 30%, Claude Johnson said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who consulted the Johnson family, said race was playing a part in Army's decision. Lynch is white; Johnson is black.

"There's a long history of blacks not receiving fair and adequate recognition in the military," said Jackson. "The first black female POW who survived is about to be discharged and suffers the trauma, the emotional injury and has a 3-year-old daughter to raise. She deserves more."

Army spokesman Maj. Steve Stover said Johnson's payment can be appealed.

Stover said the two cases are different and race is not an issue.

Stover disputed reports that Lynch had been medically discharged this summer, even though she has been allowed to reach a $1-million book deal.

He said Lynch is on the Temporary Disability Retired List and has not technically been discharged. She will be reevaluated periodically, and if recovered sufficiently she could go back on active duty or request an official discharge.

Johnson will be discharged soon.

"The disability compensation is based on each individual soldier's condition," Stover said.

Officials said Lynch was hurt after her Humvee utility vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed into another vehicle. She suffered multiple broken bones and other injuries, and it was four months before she could walk again.

Johnson was shot in both ankles and was held by Iraqi captors for 22 days. She still periodically uses a walking cast, has a hard time staying on her feet for any period of time and is not sleeping well, her father said.

She was shown in an Iraqi video fearfully watching her captors as they peppered her and the other POWs with questions.

The disability and discharge status of the other former POWs could not immediately be determined.

Claude Johnson said Lynch and his daughter, who were both stationed at Ft. Bliss near El Paso, have become friends.

In a statement released Friday by her attorney, Lynch said she was "disappointed for Shoshana."

"When she visited me in West Virginia last month, we discussed the extent of our injuries and the long road back to health, including a lifetime commitment to physical therapy and rehabilitation," Lynch said. "I support her efforts 100% and wish her a continued ... recovery."

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