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As their money dwindled, the couple began hitting church-run food pantries.Aiken took out an Army Emergency Relief Loan to cover expenses of their December move into a new apartment.Further, even after Aiken complained, the Defense Department didn't return the bulk of the money to Aiken until after Reuters inquired about his case.At Christmas, Operation Santa Claus provided the family with presents - one for each child, per the charity's rules.Eventually, they began pawning their possessions - jewelry, games, an i Phone, and even the medic bag Aiken used when saving lives in Afghanistan.
With short-term and long-term memory loss, he struggled to keep appointments and remember key dates and events. "They weren't compassionate." They were also wrong.The money the military took back from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep.The couple was desperate from "just not knowing where food's going to come from," he says."They just hit one button and they take your whole paycheck away.
Not insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan - enemies he had already encountered with distinguished bravery. But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. Beyond that, "they couldn't even tell me what the debts were from," he says. Army medic Shawn Aiken was once again locked in desperate battle with a formidable foe. His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain, and a hip injury. All Aiken knew was that the Defense Department was taking back money it claimed he owed.