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On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to cease attempting to collect bonuses that were issued to California National Guard soldiers who erroneously received them for re-enlistment in the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters.
In a statement on Wednesday, Secretary Carter wrote “I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical.” That statement continued, saying, “While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not. About 2,000 have been asked, in keeping with the law, to repay erroneous payments.”
Over 10,000, a majority of whom had serve multiple deployments to the conflicts in the two areas received bonuses of $15,000 or more as California National Guard officials struggled to reach their target enlistments over 10 years ago.
The Pentagon, citing fraud, mismanagement and lack of oversight on the part of those officials, ordered repayment of those bonuses and began garnishing wages, and imposing tax liens and interest charges on those soldiers who received bonuses.
The bonuses in question, were only to be paid to soldiers in high demand, such as civil affairs and intelligence, or to non-commissioned officers that the military needed badly to fill the ranks of units that were due to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.
While California is in the spotlight for over-payments because of the large size of their Guard, every state was responsible for over-paying soldiers to entice them to re-deploy.
The California Guard assigned 42 auditors to look into bonuses given to over 14,000 soldiers and completed that investigation last month, ordering 9,700 military personnel to re-pay their bonuses. Over $22 million has been recovered thus far. Many of those ordered to re-pay their bonuses have had to take out mortgages on their homes to re-pay monies back.
Some of those soldiers who re-upped for re-deployment had already served 20 years in the military and so, the investigators said, were ineligible for re-deployment bonuses.
Four officers in California have been prosecuted for fraud. Three of those received probation and ordered to pay restitution. One officer, Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who was in charge of managing the Guard’s Incentive program, was found guilty of filing false claims in the amount of over $15 million. Jaffe was sentenced to 30 months in prison following a guilty plea in 2011.
While the California National Guard, two years ago, had proposed a legislative fix to the National Defense Authorization Act to help the Guard members who inadvertently received bonuses because of the Guard’s recruiting and accounting practices, Congress dropped the ball, and did not address the issue.
President Obama has also warned the Pentagon not “Nickel and Dime” soldiers who were signed up by recruiters in the rush to fill enlistment quotas.
Many claim that the issue is now only being addressed because of political reasons just two weeks from the general election.