On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to collect money from California National Guard members who were told they had to repay erroneously issued enlistment bonuses.
The Washington Post reports that Carter announced steps to resolve the cases of thousands of guardsmen who received bonuses during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to be told 10 years later that they received the money in error and needed to pay it back.
As The Root previously reported, nearly 10,000 soldiers with the California National Guard received recruitment bonuses during the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as the military sought to fill its ranks, generous bonuses of $15,000 or more were offered to get service members to re-enlist and help fight overseas. An audit done by the California National Guard later showed that the bonuses had been paid out incorrectly, and the guardsmen were not eligible to receive them based on their job designations.
On Tuesday, Carter promised to resolve the bonus scandal.
Carter said in a statement that he had ordered the Pentagon’s financial department to stop the payment collections until measures could be put in place that will help the affected guardsmen through an appeals process.
“There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people. That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word,” Carter said in a statement. “Hundreds of affected Guard members in California have sought and been granted relief. But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members. That is unacceptable.”
According to the Post, while 10,000 California National Guard members may have been affected, dozens of other National Guardsmen throughout the country received similar payments.
Carter’s announcement comes after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened an investigation and requested all documents associated with the California cases. The committee has also asked senior officers with the National Guard Bureau and the California National Guard to brief committee members by Nov. 17.
Peter Levine, the top personnel official at the Pentagon, has been assigned by Carter to assess the situation and create a process that will resolve all payment cases by July 2017.
“Our goal is to have a process that honors the commitment to our service members and also to our responsibility of the taxpayer,” Carter told reporters Wednesday.
Members of Congress addressed Carter’s announcement on Wednesday.
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said that Carter’s plan is “not good enough.”
“The Pentagon needs to tell veterans it will permanently—not temporarily—end its obscene effort to collect enlistment bonuses from a decade ago,” Buchanan said.
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.) questioned why it took so long. “It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the secretary is taking this action through existing authority and that same authority could have been exercised at any point since the size and scope of the situation was realized,” Hunter said.
The Post reports that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to host a bipartisan conference call with Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work on Wednesday night to address long-term plans to fix the problem.
Read more at the Washington Post.