Veteran says U.S. Army owes him nearly $30,000 in unpaid retirement benefits

MOUNT JOY, Pa. -- When Josh Bishop left the United States Army, this wasn't how he envisioned his life.

That is mainly because he never envisioned leaving the military.

However, according to Josh, a technicality which led to his honorable discharge created a chain reaction of events which includes the U.S. Army coming after him for unpaid taxes, then destroying his credit, his family of five now living at home with his parents, and a claim that the military still owes him nearly $30,000 in retirement money.

These days, Josh, his wife Phyllicia, and their three children, ages 6, 2, and five months old, cram into Josh's parents' house in Mount Joy. The Bishops are a patriotic family; tiny American flags line the front lawn of the home. Inside, a folded, larger American flag sits encased in a frame.

Josh's mom, Sandy, always wanted her son to serve in the military. It's a feeling Josh reciprocated, he remembers, as early as 5 years old.

"I can remember, with my cousins, being the military guy. Let's go play 'Army.' Let's go play 'soldiers,'" Josh said.

Being a soldier, Josh says, was a dream job. In 2005, with the United States at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Josh dropped out of Donegal High School and enlisted in the Army.

"I was 19. I felt grown up. I'm stepping up and serving my country. I wanted to be the '1-percent,'" he says.

Josh lived out his dream. He served three tours overseas; two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He was a combat engineer for the 87th Battalion; his squadron was on the front lines, clearing routes for groups behind them, and checking for land mines.

87th Combat Engineer Battalion in Afghanistan

In ten years serving his country, Josh racked up numerous medals, awards, and commendations. After he returned home from Afghanistan in 2011, his third tour overseas, the Army moved him to Fort Riley, Kansas. He met his future wife, Phyllicia, in 2013 and the two married shortly thereafter.

Now back in the United States, and not in active battle, Josh gained 40 pounds. His end of service date was coming up, October 13, 2015, although he never wanted to leave. However, in order to re-enlist, the Army required Josh to go through its Body Composition Program in order to make weight. He passed the course on October 7, 2015, and his captain made plans to include him in his company's upcoming tour to Kuwait. Yet, when he went to re-enlist, the Army told Josh he had to do so 90-days before his end date.

He was able to get an extension to November 12 in order to make his case. It didn't work. Josh was involuntarily separated from the Army and honorably discharged.

When soldiers are released from active duty, they receive what's called a 'DD214 Form.' When Josh read his, it listed a nice going away present: Separation Pay -- $30645.00//MEMBER HAS COMPLETED FIRST FULL TERM OF SERVICE//MEMBER IS ENTITLED/

"It was a sigh of relief for me," Josh remembers. "We're out but at least we're going to get something out of it, you know?"

On the form, the Army remarked Josh had "Served in a designated imminent danger pay area." It also listed his awards and medals -- at least eight.

Josh also received an earning statement from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). The $30,645 listed on his DD214 was among $37,470.69 the Army said he was entitled to. With taxes and deductions, the Army said Josh was to receive a total of $26,645.99 in what essentially amounts to retirement money.

When the check never came by the end of November, Phyllicia called the finance office at Fort Riley.

"We asked, 'How long does it take?' They said 14-to-15 business days but because of holidays it could take longer. It wasn't until end of January that we figured out, we're not getting (the money)."

According to federal law, soldiers, like Josh, who are involuntarily separated from the Army, must sign up before their separation date to serve at least three years in the Ready Reserves. In this case, for Josh, the Pennsylvania National Guard. Josh did not, he says, because he was under the impression all along that he would be able to re-enlist in the Army.

While the Bishops worked to get that money, another hit came a few months later, during tax season. Since Josh received a DFAS statement saying he was to receive more than $26,000, he received a debt notice for $7,667.61 in unpaid taxes. When the Bishops were unable to pay the debt since they never received the money in the first place, it impacted their credit.

Debt statement addressed to Joshua Bishop for more than $7600. These taxes were a result of the $26,645.99 that the Army told Bishop he would receive, but did not.

"We can't buy a house, we can't apply for a (veterans affairs) loan, we can't even finance a car, because they're saying we owe them this money," Phyllicia said. "You're planning this future with your family, and then it's all gone."

FOX43 reached out through phone and email multiple times to the Fort Riley Finance Department and the Fort Riley Public Affairs and Media Relations offices. Messages were never returned.

FOX43 also reached out to the Lancaster County Department of Veterans Affairs through email. Director Daniel Tooth suggested the Bishops contact a Congressman or Senator. When asked if he'd be willing to answer questions on what veterans should do in these situations, similar to the Bishops, he declined.

Mike Pries, Dauphin County Commissioner and supervisor for the county's veterans' affairs office, says when a veteran is in need, a veterans affairs office should help point them in the right direction.

"We bring them in for an interview to have a discussion with them to find out what the issues are. We write them down, put all the information together we contact the nearest agency we feel is able to help them and move them forward along to give them the answer they're looking for," Pries says.

"We will take steps necessary to find those monies they deserve."

Contacting a local elected official, such as a State Representative, State Senator, or Congressman is the most efficient way to get from one step, to the other, Pries added.

It's what the Bishops did in 2015, when they contacted then-Congressman Joe Pitts. However, they claim they didn't get anywhere with Pitts' office before he retired after the 2016 election.

In June, they tried again, this time with newly-elected Congressman Lloyd Smucker, whose office confirmed to FOX43 it is in contact with trying to help the Bishops.

"We have members of our staff who are devoted to helping constituents navigate federal agencies. So, our casework staff has been in contact with them, and we will do whatever we can through our channels to help them – as we would for any constituent who requests Rep. Smucker’s help," Press Secretary Bill Jaffee wrote in an email.

The Bishops feel scorned, like the country they served turned its back on them. Josh's mom, Sandy, wrote then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump a letter explaining her son's situation, and received no response.

After nearly two years of dead-ends, though, Josh and Phyllicia remain skeptical.

"I'll be surprised if something happens. I'll be pretty shocked," Josh says. "I'll believe it when I see it."