Up to 10,000 California Guard vets told to repay enlistment bonuses

 Nearly a decade ago at the height of the Iraq War, the California National Guard found itself coming up short in enlistments. To remedy the situation, they began offer a $15,000 bonus for some new recruits.

Now, after a federal audit, it was discovered that up to 10,000 Guard vets were improperly given a bonus. The feds want that money repaid.

CBS Los Angeles:

The way to fix it if the law needs to be changed,” says McVey, “that’s what elected officials are for. They should fix the problem not lay it off on what in fact are turning into the victims.”

The money was given to the soldiers upfront, similar to an athlete getting a signing bonus.

According to the LA Time, the bonus money was supposed to be limited to soldiers who were taken on high-demand assignments.

A federal investigation uncovered thousands of bonuses and student loan payments that were given to California Guard soldiers who didn’t qualify under the high-demand assignment criteria.

Fajardo also spoke to retired US Army Chief Warrant Officer Warren Finch who also served in the Guard.

She asked him if he believed the money should be returned?

“I don’t think so.” he said, “I think they took the bonus honestly believing that’s what they were authorized. To be perfectly honest I think the people that did it, promised them the bonus should be the ones paying it back.”

Finch says as the military works to sort out accusations of fraud and mismanagement, it’s the soldiers who are paying the price.
“It also could discourage people from joining the military and that hurts especially when you have an all-volunteer army,” says Finch.

The LA Times said this “give it back” policy would affect 10,000 current and retired soldiers.  A Guard spokesperson said the figure would actually be much lower.

The California National Guard believe it is under fire and it also looking for legislative help.  A spokesperson wrote, “The California National Guard does not have the authority to unilaterally waive these debts., However, the California National Guard welcomes any law passed by Congress to waive these debts.”

The ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is from the Inland Empire. Fajardo reached Rep Mark Takano by phone —  be declined to talk and referred her to his chief of staff.

No doubt a lot of those enlistment bonuses were given by over eager recruiting officers who wanted to meet their goals for the month. That's certainly no excuse, but it might explain why so many recruits were improperly given a bonus. The recruit may have, indeed, signed up for a "high demand" assignment but was later found to be unqualified. Because the bonus was paid immediately after the recruit signed on the dotted line, it is likely that most of these improper bonuses were honest mistakes.

Most of that bonus money is long gone, spent by enlistees. Should Congress offer these veterans relief and forgive the debt? These are men and women who answered the call when their country and state needed them. It's difficult to see how Congress can now ask them to repay a debt that they had no idea they were taking on when they signed up.

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