By Terry Miller
Just in time for Veterans Day next month, those bean counters at the Pentagon had a special ‘ thank you for your service’ for those who signed up for National Guard to fight for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These men and women were offered financial incentives to enlist and now the Pentagon wants it back…they claim it was a mistake.
The absurdity of it is stunning, even by government standards. Local congress members are spearheading a united front against the Pentagon and hoping for victory against this demand when Congress returns in November.
However, after a plethora of publicity, the Pentagon has been ordered to stop seeking those repayments of enlistment bonuses.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Wednesday he is suspending “all efforts to collect reimbursement” from improperly awarded enlistment bonuses given to some member of the California National Guard, following outrage from veterans and their families over attempts to recover the money 10 years after it was disbursed.
“I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical,” Carter said in a statement, adding this suspension will continue until “I am satisfied that our process is working effectively.”
Ten years ago, the California National Guard began offering bonuses of $15,000 or more to encourage enlistment in order to meet our country’s needs to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week, it was reported that the Pentagon is requiring nearly 10,000 veterans to return that money, stating that these cash incentives were improperly distributed. Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) released the following statement:
“I am proud of the Californians who answered our call when we needed men and women to serve and defend our country. And I am equally as shocked that now, those same men and women are being asked to pay for another’s mistake. The Pentagon’s error has now turned into a penalty for others, with many soldiers facing excessive interest charges, tax liens, and even wage garnishments if they do not comply. These servicemen and women acted in good faith, at times extending their years of service in exchange for these bonuses – years of their lives they cannot get back. It is now the responsibility of Congress to provide a legislative fix to address this error. I call on the Department of Defense to halt these collections and for Congressional leadership to bring up legislation for a vote as soon as we return in November.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) called on the California National Guard and the Pentagon to immediately halt efforts to obtain repayment of enlistment bonuses, student loan payments, and other payments granted incorrectly to members of the California Guard.
In a letter to Adjutant General of the California National Guard David Baldwin, Schiff pushed the Guard to immediately halt these efforts saying that “seeking reimbursement for these funds when they were accepted in good faith imposes a substantial financial hardship on those who have served our nation and their families.”
In the letter, Schiff also announced that he is working on a legislative remedy for when Congress is back in session in November. In a statement accompanying the letter, Schiff stated:
“The men and women of the National Guard serve our nation well, and they deserve better than being hounded for repayment of enlistment bonuses and other benefits they were mistakenly provided through no fault of their own. These soldiers enlisted during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and frequently served overseas, and we owe them a debt that we can never repay, but we can start by ensuring they are not subject to tax liens or wage garnishments based on the errors of others. Congress can, and I believe will, address this unacceptable situation, and in the meantime the California National Guard should suspend all debt collection activities against these soldiers.”