Pentagon trying to recoup "erroneous" bonus payments to CA Guard
Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.
Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.
Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.
Now, obviously fraud should be investigated and punished, but how can you punish the third party beneficiaries that not only had no knowledge of it, but who actually completed their portion of the contract?
This is the kind of thing that happened to soldiers:
“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”
In Iraq, Van Meter was thrown from an armored vehicle turret — and later awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injuries — after the vehicle detonated a buried roadside bomb.
Susan Haley, a Los Angeles native and former Army master sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, said she sends the Pentagon $650 a month — a quarter of her family’s income — to pay down $20,500 in bonuses that the Guard says were given to her improperly.
“I feel totally betrayed,” said Haley, 47, who served 26 years in the Army along with her husband and oldest son, a medic who lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.
Haley, who now lives in Kempner, Texas, worries they may have to sell their house to repay the bonuses. “They’ll get their money, but I want those years back,” she said, referring to her six-year reenlistment.
Lawmakers on Sunday condemned a Pentagon effort to recoup enlistment bonuses improperly paid to thousands of California National Guard soldiers a decade ago, saying the overpayments were not the soldiers’ fault and calling on the Pentagon or Congress to waive their debts.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pledged a House investigation of the problem, calling the Pentagon demands for repayment of bonuses from combat veterans “disgraceful."
McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said the House would demand a briefing from the National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees the California branch of the Guard....
"The Department of Defense should waive these repayments, and I will be requesting a full brief from Army and National Guard leadership,” McCarthy said in a statement. "The House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.
"Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters' faults from over a decade ago,” McCarthy said. "They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country."
The Legion is following this VERY VERY VERY closely, and analyzing what can be done. I'm sure there'll be updates soon.
NOTE: Be sure to go and watch the video, by CLICKING THIS LINK.
UPDATE: LEGION issues a press release:
‘We stand with the soldiers of the Guard’
INDIANAPOLIS (October 24, 2016) –The head of the nation’s largest veterans service organization is calling on the U.S. military to immediately cease collection efforts from National Guard members who were mistakenly awarded bonuses through no fault of their own.
“As far as The American Legion is concerned, the debt is backwards. America owes a debt to these heroes that we can never re-pay,” said National Commander Charles E. Schmidt. “It is outrageous that thousands of National Guard members in California and many other states were promised bonuses if they would re-enlist and go to war. Most did and now they are being hounded to re-pay the money because of bureaucratic incompetence. This is not how you treat our volunteers, who had no more obligation to serve than any other American. How can any potential military member ever believe what military recruiters promise them in the future? Congress and the White House need to fix this now and provide immediate relief to those who have already been bullied into paying this. There are a few documented cases where apparently fraud has been committed. Fraud is a crime and those who committed this offense should be punished. But there is no way that the overwhelming majority of these thousands of servicemembers are anything other than heroes who mistakenly believed the promises that their government was making to them. If their overpayments were not made due to malicious deception on their part, they should not be held responsible for it.”
Schmidt, a retired Air Force officer who served in Vietnam, pointed out that many of the veterans experienced combat, earned Purple Hearts and had to obtain loans to pay back the bonuses. “A few isolated cases might be excusable due to a misunderstanding, but the Los Angeles Times reported that nearly 10,000 Guard veterans were being ordered to repay bonuses in California alone,” he said. “The American Legion stands with all of the soldiers and families that have been affected by this. We will not rest until this problem is fixed.”
With a current membership of 2.2 million wartime veterans, The American Legion, www.legion.org, was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 13,000 posts across the nation.