Pentagon orders Soldiers to repay bonuses after a decade
The Pentagon is forcing veterans to repay thousands of dollars in enlistment bonuses ten years after their service, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Members of the California Guard have described receiving orders to go to massive meetings during 2006 and 2007, in which soldiers were offered $15,000 or more upfront to reenlist and return to war. Subsequent audits have revealed that some California Guard officials mismanaged the funds, and even committed fraud in an effort to meet enlistment quotas.
“The system paid everybody up front,” said Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, who helped to conduct the audits. “And then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”
Piazzo’s auditors discovered that thousands of dollars in bonuses and student loan payments were given to soldiers who did not qualify for them. As a result, almost 10,000 soldiers have been ordered to give back these bonuses, or else face additional charges if they refuse. Over $22 million has been taken from these veterans thus far.
“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”
Others, however, have refused to pay, ensuring that this collection process will likely drag on for many years.
“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” said Robert Richmond, an Army sergeant first class who suffered permanent back and brain injuries in Afghanistan during his reenlistment. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”
Richmond had reenlisted to collect a $15,000 bonus, which the Pentagon is now trying to take back. Like many other vets, he has refused to pay, filing multiple appeals while his debt has steadily increased to nearly $20,000.
Others have simply given up and paid, often at great financial cost to veterans and their families.
“I feel totally betrayed,” said former Army master sergeant Susan Haley, who has to send the Pentagon a quarter of her family’s income every month to pay off the $20,500 given to her by the California Guard. Haley’s reenlistment in Afghanistan lasted for six years.
“They’ll get their money,” Haley said. “But I want those years back.”
Nathan Wellman is a Los Angeles-based journalist, author, and playwright. Follow him on Twitter: @LightningWOW