A decade after re-enlisting in the military to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 10,000 California National Guardsmen are being forced by the Pentagon to repay enlistment bonuses and other incentives the agency says they were not entitled to receive.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the repayment demands came after a federal investigation revealed that the California Guard overpaid bonuses in an effort to entice soldiers to re-enlist so the Guard could fill a troop shortage and reach enlistment goals. According to the Times:
Instead of forgiving the improper bonuses, the California Guard assigned 42 auditors to comb through paperwork for bonuses and other incentive payments given to 14,000 soldiers.
The audit found that roughly 9,700 veterans and current soldiers and veterans received improper bonuses.
Some soldiers are fighting the repayment demand, but the appeals process is long and there’s no guarantee of success.
If the soldiers outright refuse to repay the bonuses — most of which top $15,000 — they could be faced with significant interest charges, tax liens and wage garnishments, the Times reports.
According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon says bonus overpayments occurred in all states, but the issue is most pronounced in California, which has a whopping 17,000 National Guard soldiers. News reports have not specified whether the Pentagon is considering going after the bonus money of soldiers in other states.
Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart, was forced to repay $25,000 in re-enlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan incentives. He paid off the debt by refinancing his home mortgage. Van Meter tells the Times:
“These bonuses were used to keep people in. People like me just got screwed.”
According to The New York Times, many members of Congress are calling for a legislative fix and an immediate halt to collecting money from troops. An estimated $22 million has already been recovered as part of the bonus recoupment effort. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., says:
“It’s clear to me the vast majority of these guardsman acted in good faith. We need to take immediate action on this.”
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