Local lawmakers expressed outrage of the Pentagon’s decision to demand soldiers to repay enlistment bonuses and benefits that were improperly given by the California National Guard a decade ago.
“I’m calling on the Department of Defense to halt the collection process, investigate the situation and waive the recoupment of these bonuses,” said Congressman Pete Aguilar (D-San Bernardino). “I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to guarantee that those who sacrificed so much to keep us safe are treated fairly and respectfully when they return home.”
The Los Angeles Times reported last Thursday that approximately 9,700 formerly enlisted California National Guard soldiers are being asked by the Pentagon to pay back bonuses of $15,000 or more.
According to the report, bonuses were given out from 2006 to 2008 by recruiters who were scrambling to meet enlistment quotas. Many of the men and women served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Audits conducted by the state’s National Guard headquarters in Sacramento demonstrated that the soldiers did not quality for all or some of the bonuses. National Guard officials say only the Pentagon could forgive the debt incurred by the soldiers, and doing so may require Congress to act.
Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside), who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee along with Aguilar, also confirmed his commitment to resolving the issue.
“I am calling on Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to make this issue a top priority during the lame duck session next month.”Takano said. “This country owes a debt to our service members that we can never fully repay. It should never be the other way around.”
On Tuesday, the California National Guard released a statement explaining that it previously approached Congress about introducing legislation to alleviate financial burdens for service men and women. They claim to be working in conjunction with federal officials to waive the debts.
“We are working with Congressional leaders to support a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that provides relief to Soldiers,” the statement reads. “That vote is expected to take place at the end of the calendar year.”
Joseph Moseley, who served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom and now advocates for veterans rights, said paying back bonuses is not an uncommon practice. After suffering injuries to his back, Moseley was discharged two years before his six-year enlistment contract expired–repaying $3,000 in the process.
“I went ahead and paid it,” he said. “Otherwise it would have been taken out of my taxes or out of my check.”
Moseley fears the 9,700 former guardsmen and women will not be relieved of their debts.
“It is upsetting,” he said. “I wish these people the best, but I don’t they think they have much of a choice.”