After significant public outcry about a report that California National Guardsmen who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are being forced to repay enlistment bonuses that were improperly issued to them through no fault of their own, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter promised on Tuesday that the issue would be resolved.
The Washington Post reports that Carter said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work is examining the situation.
“We are going to look into it and resolve it,” Carter said. “It is a significant issue.”
As previously reported on The Root, nearly 10,000 members of the California National Guard were told they had to repay enlistment bonuses of $15,000 or more after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the Guard. A lack of oversight led to the bonuses being paid out to guardsmen who were not qualified to receive them based on their job descriptions.
The Post reports that the issue has prompted outcry on Capitol Hill. Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers told the Post that Guard leaders had attempted to resolve the problem through Congress two years ago by trying to pass legislation that would have provided relief to affected guardsmen, but the Congressional Budget Office objected to the legislation because it would have added spending at a time when the U.S. government was attempting to cut back.
“It’s important to note that we’ve kind of led the way in trying to resolve this,” Beevers said.
An audit conducted by the California National Guard found that about $30 million in in bonuses were not properly authorized, but another $37.2 million that was issued to 4,000 guardsmen was done under existing polices, and those service members were allowed to keep the money.
According to the Post, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called for additional oversight and quick action by the Defense Department. California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, wrote a letter Monday calling the actions taken “unfair and appalling.”
“Thousands of our service members are paying the price for mistakes made by California National Guard managers, some of whom are now serving jail time or paying restitution for the crimes,” the senators wrote. “It is outrageous to hold these service members and their families responsible for the illegal behavior of others.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened an investigation Monday and wrote a letter requesting all documents associated with the California cases. Additionally, they have asked that Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, the senior officer for the National Guard Bureau, and Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the top officer in the California National Guard, brief committee members by Nov. 17.
In a series of tweets Tuesday, Lengyel addressed the issue, saying that the National Guard, the U.S. Army and the California National Guard are working together to look for ways to resolve the problem “in a way respecting both Soldiers & our duty to taxpayers.”
Read more at the Washington Post.