Current and Former U.S. Service Members Forced To Repay Ineligible Bonuses
According to auditors, the rules of the sign-on bonuses should have gone to people of certain skill areas, and in a rush to “staff the war,” they were given out to generously. And, it’s because of that, the U.S. military and officials are using the law to do tax liens and wage garnishments on these 10,000 or so soldiers.
On top of paying back sign-on bonuses, the soldiers are being forced to pay back student loan repayments.
According to the California National Guard, the repayments are part of the National Guard Bureau and Army’s federally-run program. It stated the CNG has no authority to waive the debts but would welcome any law Congress passes to waive them. And, until this happens, the agency said, it advocates for its soldiers during this trying time.
The statement read the service that adjutant general Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, developed the assistance center to help some soldiers keep some of the $37 million in bonus payments.
Although the improper use of military troop-level incentives is a nationwide problem, the state has become a pivotal point for two reasons:
Large guard force size
The bonus money scandal from CNG was first discovered in 2010 after it was learned an incentive program misused nearly $100 million. Its one-time leader, former Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison after he pled guilty to declaring $15 million in false claims.
When found, it was noted to be “war profiteering” and said to benefit guard members who have never been in battle. Since this time, lower ranking service members made complaints that they checks were being garnished and the review process was taking too long – many of them noting they are not to blame.
42 auditors are looking over the California cases, which brings repayments in the spotlight once more. And, people including veterans and current service members, are upset. Many have taken to the California Guard’s Facebook Page to make their disgust known.
While some service members have started to pay back the debt after receiving notice that they owe the money, some service members are refusing to do so, saying officials messed up and that members should keep the money, especially since it’s been nearly 10 years after the problem started.
One U.S. service member who paid his bonus back is Christopher Van Meter, a former Army captain, who fought in Iraq. He refinanced his mortgage to pay back the alleged $25,000 in re-enlistment bonus and another $21,000 in student loan repayments.
Former Army Master Sgt. Susan Haley is another veteran who is being forced to make payments. She is paying the Pentagon $650 a month to pay back the $20,500 in bonus she attained. She served over 25 years in the service, including time in Afghanistan.
Robert Richmond has not repaid any of the money back – he completed his contract in 2012, and two years later, was sent a letter that he had to repay the money. According to the letter he received, he was indelible for the bonus because he already had 20 years of service. However, Richmond said, until his reenlistment, he only had 15 years due to the breaks in service. He was told he would qualify for the bonus, and now suddenly, he isn’t.
And, because he isn’t making payments for the repayment effort, he’s been hit with interest charges.
Some veterans have filed appeals and are determined to fight the service they once fought for. And, the CNG said it was assisting those veterans with the appeals process.
CNG Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers said they want to help people eliminate these debts as quickly as they can, but they can’t because they’d be in violation of the law.