ZH: The Pentagon and Congress are both promising quick fixes to the scandal surrounding excessive National Guard bonus payments to soldiers. However, the nearly 10,000 California Guard soldiers involved may be just the tip of the iceberg.
The U.S. military prompted outrage and Congress’ attention over the weekend when news spread that it was demanding thousands of California National Guard service members pay back erroneous or fraudulent bonuses. Those payments were offered when it became difficult to recruit enough soldiers for enlistment or reenlistment during the most active years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Los Angeles Times first reported Saturday that the California Guard had sent payback notices to almost 10,000 guard members.
On Wednesday, Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter paused all further repayment requests from the Pentagon.
“While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not,” Carter said in a statement.
“About 2,000 have been asked, in keeping with the law, to repay erroneous payments,” the defense secretary explained, adding that the Pentagon’s “established process” had mixed results. Stating it has already “granted relief” to hundreds of members, Carter continued, “that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members.”
While the change of plans is welcomed among servicemen who refused to pay the bonuses back, the White House is not sure how the Pentagon will handle those who “decided to pay them back anyway out of a sense of duty.”
Two years ago, the Los Angeles Times reported, the California National Guard proposed a legislative fix, adding “legislative language related to ‘service-member debt relief equity.’” According to the document obtained by Politico, the National Guard suggested the change because “[t]housands of soldiers have inadvertently incurred debt, through no fault of their own, because of faulty Army recruiting or accounting practices and malicious individuals.”
Despite bringing up the difficulties service members had been going through at the time, the National Guard’s list of priorities for the fiscal 2015 NDAA makes no mention of the Pentagon’s bonus recoupment policy.