By Douglas V. Gibbs
The bonuses were paid to encourage enlistment during the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress is now weighing in on the situation. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the Pentagon demands “disgraceful.” McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said the House will demand answers from the National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees the California branch of the Guard.
Issa called the Pentagon's effort “unconscionable.”
“I find it hard to believe either you or your leadership team was aware that such a boneheaded decision was made to demand repayment,” Congressman Duncan Hunter wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in which he asked Carter to put his weight behind a quick remedy.
“These service members — many of whom were sent into combat — are now being forced to make difficult and painful decisions to pay back thousands of dollars they never knew they owed,” said Marc Takano, a Democrat, and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “The solution to this ridiculous situation is an act of Congress.”
Investigations determined that fraud and mismanagement due to poor oversight contributed to the California Guard bonus overpayments.
“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, said. “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.”
Some guardsmen face even more serious punishment. Eight current or former members of the California National Guard were indicted in 2014 on federal charges for fraudulently obtaining recruiting referral bonuses, according to The Associated Press.
“The recent report regarding reenlistment bonuses being clawed back are extremely troubling,” Darrel Issa, a Congressman from the Temecula and North County area said. “It is unconscionable that the responsibility for paying for bureaucratic malfeasance and corruption over a decade ago is being laid at the feet of the heroes who put themselves in harm's way to keep our nation safe. The Department of Defense should forgive these debts immediately.”
Other parts of the Defense Department have mismanaged similar bonus programs.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon's bomb squad team was saddled with debt due to an accounting error. One member of the team committed suicide. The department agreed to forgive the debt after Military.com and The Washington Post reported on the case.