GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine reservist, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter Sunday, demanding the Pentagon drop its “boneheaded” crusade of ordering thousands of troops to repay enlistment bonuses with interest.
About a decade ago, the National Guard in California offered thousands of troops major enlistment bonuses to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. These bonuses sometimes reached up to $15,000. But now, according to an article in The Los Angeles Times, the Pentagon has mandated that these troops repay bonuses, with interest added on top. Troops who’ve decided not to pay back their bonuses have suffered tax liens and wage garnishment.
For Hunter, such a decision can only be described as “boneheaded.”
“The Department of Defense–along with the National Guard Bureau–has a duty to continue investigating this matter and address any instances of fraud that might have occurred, but it remains my firm belief that even the simple request of asking soldiers to repay money contingent on reenlistment is disgraceful and insulting,” Hunter wrote to Carter.
“In fact, I find it difficult to believe that either you or your leadership team was aware that such a boneheaded decision was made to demand repayment–and I ask that you utilize your authority to influence a solution, including a possible legislative fix if determined necessary, that’s in the best interest of the individuals and families impacted,” Hunter added.
From the Pentagon’s perspective, requiring bonus repayment is an effort to crack down on fraud that California National Guard officials engaged in to meet recruitment goals.
But from the perspective of soldiers, the Pentagon is breaking a long-standing agreement and requiring veterans to repay funds they legitimately thought they earned through reenlisting.
In reality, many of those bonuses were only supposed to be handed out to specific soldiers in certain high-value positions like intelligence.
“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” 42-year-old Army captain Christopher Van Meter told The Los Angeles Times. “People like me just got screwed.”
Van Meter used his bonus to refinance his home mortgage. Many soldiers simply would not have put their names down for reenlistment without incentive.
While California Guard officials would like to forget about the money owing, they say doing so would be a violation of the law.
“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, told The Los Angeles Times. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”
Since the California Guard doesn’t seem to have the authority to ameliorate the problem, Hunter wants Carter involved to find a solution.
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