Ex-POW's Family Accuses Army Of Double Standard on Benefit
By Lee Hockstader
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2003; Page A03
AUSTIN, Oct. 23 -- Shot through both legs and held prisoner in Iraq for 22 days, Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson returned home in the spring to a difficult convalescence that lacked the media fury and official hype that attended her friend and comrade in arms, Jessica Lynch.
Depressed, scarred, haunted by the trauma of her captivity and at times unable to sleep, Johnson walks with a limp and has difficulty standing for long, according to her parents.
And now that Johnson is on the verge of her discharge from the Army, insult is being added to her injury, they say. While Lynch was discharged as a private first class in August with an 80 percent disability benefit, Johnson, set to leave in the coming days, learned last week that she will receive a 30 percent disability benefit from the Army for her injuries.
The difference, which amounts to $600 or $700 a month in payments, has infuriated Johnson and her family. They have enlisted Jesse L. Jackson's help to make their case to the news media, accusing the Army of a double standard, insensitivity and racism. Lynch is white; Johnson is black.
"Race clearly is a factor," said Jackson, who added that he will take up Johnson's cause with the White House, the Pentagon and members of Congress. "Here's a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal. . . . Yet there's an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases."
Calls to the Army press office in Washington were not returned Thursday.
Claude Johnson, Shoshana Johnson's father and himself an Army veteran, said his family and Shoshana do not begrudge Lynch her celebrity or her disability payments. But he said he believes his daughter should also get what she is due. He noted that the Army owes her more than the 30 percent disability benefit, which he said would translate into 30 percent of her base monthly pay of about $1,500, or about $500.
"There is [a double standard]," Claude Johnson said in an interview. "I don't know for sure that it was the Pentagon. All I know for sure is that the news media paid a lot of attention to Jessica."
The parents said Shoshana Johnson -- who is 30, has a 3-year-old daughter, has been living at home and is continuing rehabilitation treatments for her legs -- will not speak publicly about the terms of her discharge. But they said she was stunned and angered when the Army informed her this past Friday of its decision on her disability.
Both parents stressed that their daughter's depression, which Claude Johnson characterized as post-traumatic stress disorder, should have qualified her for a better deal from the Army.
Shoshana Johnson's mother, Eunice, said in a separate interview that her daughter's "spirits are not too well most of the time."
She added: "She gets depressed. She doesn't sleep very well. Her mental state is not what it used to be, and after a day's work, she has to come home every day and take her shoes off and raise her legs. She has a lot of medical appointments."
Shoshana Johnson enlisted in the Army to become a cook, hoping to eventually return to civilian life as a chef, her family has said. About a year after her enlistment, she was sent to Iraq with the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss, in El Paso. Like other members of the 507th, a rear-guard unit, she never expected to be close to fighting.
When the unit blundered into an ambush near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 11 of its soldiers were killed. Six, including Lynch and Johnson, were taken prisoner. In a videotape taken shortly after their capture and subsequently released by the Iraqis, Johnson appeared terrified, her eyes darting back and forth among her captors.
Lynch was rescued on April 2. The others were released on April 13. While they were recovering together at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after the war, Johnson and Lynch became friendly. Johnson later visited Lynch at her home in West Virginia, according to Lynch's lawyer, Stephen Goodwin.
"Shoshana is certainly deserving of anything she's entitled to," Goodwin said. "She served her country just as admirably as anybody in that unit, including Jessica Lynch."
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