Maybe some California National Guard troops won’t have to repay questionable enlistment bonuses.
Southland lawmakers Wednesday applauded a decision by Defense Secretary Ash Carter to suspend an effort by the Pentagon to reclaim enlistment bonuses paid to around 10,000 California National Guard personnel.
The bonuses were paid out around a decade ago to maintain force levels at the height of the country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but subsequent investigations uncovered widespread over-payments, fraud and mismanagement by California National Guard officials.
Soldiers who received the money said the Pentagon is reneging on agreements and imposing financial hardships on them.
“First, I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical,” Carter said in a statement released by the Defense Department. “This suspension will continue until I am satisfied that our process is working effectively.”
Carter said he also ordered a senior personnel official to assess the situation and establish, by the beginning of next year, a streamlined, centralized process that ensures fair and equitable treatment of service members. He said he wants to have all outstanding cases resolved no later than July 1 next year.
Carter said some guardsmen knew or should have known they were ineligible for the benefits they were claiming, but many others did not. He said the process for guard members to seek relief from making repayments dragged on too slowly.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, said Carter “made the right call.”
“While this will help some families sleep a bit easier at night, much more needs to be done, starting with congressional legislation to waive these debts and to provide relief to soldiers who have already repaid some or all of the bonuses they accepted in good faith,” Schiff said. “It should not fall on the shoulders of those who serve our country to pay for the mistakes of others that offered these incentives improperly or allowed the error to go undiscovered for so many years.”
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, D-California, issued a joint statement saying they plan to introduce legislation when Congress returns after the election to address the issue.
“The small number of service members who knew they weren’t supposed to receive bonuses will be exempt from the bill,” they said. “We’re hopeful the Pentagon will resolve this issue on its own, but want to ensure those who wore our nation’s uniform that they won’t be punished for the actions of others.”
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, also hailed Carter’s decision.
“But this is only temporary relief, not a permanent one,” Chu said. “As I said yesterday, the service members who acted in good faith should not have to pay for the Pentagon’s mistake.”
Congressional leaders on both sides of the political aisle had called on Carter to halt the collections.
–City News Service
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