Keep It, Pentagon Tells California Guardsmen

Washington Report

(August 29, 2017) Thousands of California National Guardsmen who received enlistment bonuses that were later questioned will not have to repay the money. The Pentagon has stopped efforts to recoup more than $190 million from 17,902 California Guardsmen who enlisted or re-enlisted from 2004 to 2010.

The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story last year of the Pentagon’s attempt to force Guardsmen to repay the bonuses, reported on the Defense Department’s waiver last week. The newspaper obtained a report sent by the Pentagon in July to the armed services committees in the House and Senate outlining its plans to back off the effort.

After the newspaper’s original report, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter suspended the effort and Congress gave the Defense Department until July 30 to review every case.

That review resulted in the waivers for the 17,000 Guardsmen and determined only 393 soldiers were required to return the money. The bonuses ranged from $15,000 to $80,000.

Before the effort to recover the bonuses was uncovered, the Pentagon was using various tactics to collect the money, including garnished wages and tax liens. Some who were forced to repay the bonuses were charged interest.

According to the report sent to Congress, $80.9 million in bonuses went to new recruits, while $73.5 million went to troops who re-enlisted. Officers received recruiting bonuses of $3.27 million.

The review found that most troops who accepted the bonuses did so believing they were entitled to them, rather than because of any malicious intent.

The bonus program had little oversight. One person was given most of the authority to approve bonuses or not, and that person claimed to feel pressure from higher ranks to meet enlistment goals. That person, a master sergeant, pleaded guilty in 2011 to approving fraudulent bonuses and served 30 months in prison.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who helped create the legislation ordering the review of all cases, told the newspaper that the military probably would not have taken action without congressional prodding.

“It shouldn’t have taken an act of Congress to have the [Defense Department] admit their mistake and fulfill the contracts made to our California National Guard,” he said.