A top official at the Pentagon said Tuesday only a few hundred California guardsmen will be forced to pay back bonuses they wrongfully received.
Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Peter Levine confirmed that out of 17,500 California guardsmen initially caught in the forced bonus repayment net, just a few hundred owe the National Guard that money back, Stars and Stripes reports.
“If the servicemembers fulfilled their service commitment and there’s no obvious reason to believe that they knew or should have known that it was an erroneous payment, then we don’t need further review to get rid of that case,” Levin said.
Not only that, guardsmen who already paid money back from bonuses received during 2004 to 2010 will be eligible for reimbursements.
These bonuses were originally doled out to incentivize guardsmen to join the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the debacle started after certain officials in the California National Guard knowingly gave out bonuses to people who did not meet the appropriate criteria in order to boost recruitment numbers. In 2011, Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who formerly served as bonus and incentive manager for the California National Guard, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his involvement.
“The error was an error on the part of the government as to whether they were eligible,” Levine noted. “They may have been misled as to whether they were eligible.”
Shortly after officials received punishment, the collection efforts started against troops who had long spent the bonus funds and had no idea in the first place they were ineligible for the money.
When The Los Angeles Times broke the story in October that the Pentagon started collecting these bonuses back from troops who received upwards of $15,000 each, the public exploded and legislators immediately pledged a full review of the situation.
Soon after, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter stepped in and ordered a full halt to bonus recollection until a more permanent solution could be found.
Now, it seems that solution has finally come, nearly three months after Carter’s first announcement.
The Pentagon also said it intends to help if credit has been negatively affected by collection efforts.
According to Levine, all cases should be completed by July 1, 2017.
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