“These brave Californians were willing to give everything to serve our country, and they earned every penny and benefit given to them. “The over-payment of enlistment signing bonuses by the Department of Defense should not be the responsibility of our service members or veterans to pay back, years after the fact.”
There’s a bureaucratic firestorm swirling in the Golden State recently, caused by sloppy government bookkeeping, and perpetuated by the Pentagon, who says that thousands of members of the California National Guard — many of them veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — have to repay funds the Pentagon handed them years ago for their service.
Some of the repayments are as much as $15,000 each.
A few state representatives, not including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (the quote above, however, is attributed to her) say that Congress isn’t even needed to make it all right. That the Pentagon itself can legally forgive the soldiers’ debts — debts that came out of left field and are entirely the fault of the DoD (it’s worth noting that the California Guard, without some action from DC, can lawfully do nothing to stop collection).
“These men and women voluntarily enlisted with the understanding that they would receive substantial bonuses,” said the letter that California senators sent to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. “The Department of Defense should use its existing authority … to waive the repayment of these enlistment bonuses … help those service members who have already fully or partially repaid these incentives.”
“Thousands of our service members are paying the price for mistakes made by California National Guard managers, some of whom are now serving jail time or paying restitution for their crimes. It is outrageous to hold these service members and their families responsible for the illegal behavior of others.”
Members of California’s House also sent correspondence to Washington calling for the monetary retrievals to be stopped immediately.
Not that Congress is without fault in the matter. Way back in 2014 the California Guard alerted them of the painfully slow appeals process, the only mechanism in place to get these sort of debt issues resolved. They did nothing to solve the problem, citing budget concerns.
As of last month there were 9,700 California Guard members who were wrongly given bonuses, and are in collection, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Pentagon has publicly acknowledged that while the bulk of these issues lie in California (they were the only ones that audited the bonuses), others do exist in other states.
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter took the reigns and has officially suspended collection in California.
“There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people,” he said. “While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 26, 2016