Vet Affairs Chair: DOD Bonus Recollection Freeze ‘Ham-Handed’ Attempt To Dodge Scrutiny

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, is furious at the “ham-handed” attempt by the Obama administration Wednesday to dodge blame for trying to seize bonuses from troops.

For Miller, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s announcement completely ignores soldiers who have already been forced to pay back their entire bonuses to the Pentagon, after it was revealed that California National Guard officials doled out bonuses to ineligible troops. Moreover, it also ignores the fact that the problem of bonus repayment is not restricted to California, but rather affects troops across the nation.

“Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s announcement today on the National Guard bonus scandal is nothing more than a weak and ham-handed attempt to shift the focus away from the Obama administration’s shameful treatment of service members and veterans,” Miller said in a statement Wednesday. “Carter seems to have no plan to make those who’ve already been forced to pay back their bonuses whole, and by focusing only on the California Guard, he is ignoring what media reports indicate could be a national problem.”

Carter announced Wednesday that the Pentagon would cease recollecting bonuses from troops until he is “satisfied that [the] process is working effectively,” adding that the department would implement a relief solution starting Jan. 1.

Carter noted that some soldiers either knew or should have known they were ineligible to receive those bonuses.

As such, Carter’s announcement does not constitute debt forgiveness. At this point, all that’s been done is a suspension of bonus recollection efforts and a promise for “fair and equitable treatment of our service members” in the future. 

“Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own,” Carter added. “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

The hope is for the department to resolve all cases by July 1, 2017.

Elsewhere, advocacy organization Concerned Veterans for America Executive Director Mark Lucas came to a similar conclusion as Miller, namely that the proposed solution totally misses the mark. Instead of promising a “relief” resolution process, the Pentagon should simply waive bonus repayments.

“It’s mildly encouraging that Secretary Carter has paused Pentagon efforts to take money away from veterans, but his solution misses the mark,” Lucas said in a statement. “The problem here isn’t the ‘process,’ it’s the fact that forced veteran bonus repayments are happening at all. Adjusting the program with the hope of a resolution nine months from now is an insufficient solution. The answer to this problem is an immediate waive of these bonus repayments and legislation that will prevent Pentagon waste, fraud, and abuse from ever affecting American veterans again.”

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched an investigation Tuesday. 

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