VICTORY! Lawmakers ‘Fix’ Issue Forcing Veterans to Return Bonus Money
The U.S. Herald reported last month on the outrage taking place as news leaked that thousands of California National Guard troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were being targeted in a collection effort to recoup enlistment bonuses – some of which were paid as many as a dozen years ago.
The Pentagon had offered the bonuses in an attempt to drive enlistment numbers as the wars demanded an increase in military personnel, but an audit triggered by a massive fraud prosecution in 2011 revealed that the bonuses were paid to more troops than the program intended and the Pentagon initiated collection activities against the National Guard veterans.
Although the error impacted National Guard members throughout the nation, troops from California were hit the hardest because there are more Guardsmen and women from that state than any other in the U.S.
The Pentagon was seeking to recover more than $20 million it said was paid in error, but the unfairness of the move shocked the nation – and spurred lawmakers in both Sacramento and Washington D.C. to action.
After the story was reported, Defense Secretary Ashton issued a stay on all collection efforts until a complete review of the enlistment incentive program and the appeal process was completed.
Troops who had accepted the re-enlistment bonus in good faith had served – sometimes multiple tours – in the hot zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, relying on the good faith of the government.
In most cases, the bonus money is long gone having been spent when the Guardsmen and women returned home to restart their civilian lives – on tuition or vocational training, to purchase a home or to start a business.
The unexpected – and shocking demand for repayment so long after the bonuses had been offered and accepted, after the troops had re-enlisted and served created a furor when it was made public.
Now, the annual defense bill, National Defense Authorization Act, will not only protect the troops from any further collection effort, but repay any bonuses that have already been repaid by veterans.
In addition, the bill mandates a review of all cases of “recoupment” during the years from 2004 through 2015.
The bill had bipartisan support with California Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat, praising the bill.
“The goal was to make it clear that California National Guard soldiers won’t be forced to unfairly repay bonuses promised for their service a decade ago.”
Republican Congressman, Darrell Issa, also from California, promised that Congress will be watching to ensure that the Pentagon complies with the Act in returning any recouped funds to veterans or in any way attempts to continue to collect the bonuses from those who honored their promise to serve.