David S. Cloud
October 22, 2016
(any italic emphasis here is mine)
Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.
Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.
Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.
But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.
“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”
…The problem offers a dark perspective on the Pentagon’s use of hefty cash incentives to fill its all-volunteer force during the longest era of warfare in the nation’s history.
Even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.
…Facing enlistment shortfalls and two major wars with no end in sight, the Pentagon began offering the most generous incentives in its history to retain soldiers in the mid-2000s.
It also began paying the money up front, like the signing bonuses that some businesses pay in the civilian sector.
“It was a real sea change in how business was done,” said Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, a California Guard official in Sacramento who oversaw the audits. “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”
The bonuses were supposed to be limited to soldiers in high-demand assignments like intelligence and civil affairs or to noncommissioned officers badly needed in units due to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.
The National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees state Guard organizations, has acknowledged that bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars.
But the money was handed out far more liberally in the California Guard, which has about 17,000 soldiers and is one of the largest state Guard organizations.
In 2010, after reports surfaced of improper payments, a federal investigation found that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California Guard soldiers who did not qualify for them, or were approved despite paperwork errors.
Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three officers also pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution.
Instead of forgiving the improper bonuses, the California Guard assigned 42 auditors to comb through paperwork for bonuses and other incentive payments given to 14,000 soldiers, a process that was finally completed last month.
Roughly 9,700 current and retired soldiers have been told by the California Guard to repay some or all of their bonuses and the recoupment effort has recovered more than $22 million so far.
Because of protests, appeals and refusal by some to comply, the recovery effort is likely to continue for years.
…“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said bitterly. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”
Read the complete LA times article HERE.
What the H*#@L is going on? It was not the fault of a single man or woman who signed or reenlisted that this occurred. Has California and the military lost their ever lovin’ minds?
NO court in the land should allow this to continue and everyone that has been hounded or forced to repay a dime of this money should be reimbursed for the loss PLUS a percent interest for the stress of having to deal with a military that cannot get its head out of its arse. Where is their honor? Where is the responsibility THEY have for putting soldiers in harms way? More importantly, WHERE is the weasel State Attorney General of California, Pelosi and the other congress members, and the piss poor communist governor running the state to get this IMMEDIATELY corrected. These men and women have been dealing with this for close to TEN years and yet not one thing has been done to finish this and help save these people’s homes and families from bankruptcy. From what I read they are near the end of their wits, repaying what should never have been demanded returned, and a few are nearly suicidal thanks to the mechanizations of the California National Guard and the Pentagon.
Take some of the millions that Obama is throwing away on the illegal immigrants and give it back to these men and women. They at least deserve that much!
My take at this point – I NEVER want to live in the state of California so long as Pelosi and others who are either socialists are far left liberals are allowed to run it. They have bankrupted the state for many years and NOW we see how they treat our military!
This is f*#@ng ridiculous.