Pentagon 'Clawback' of Guard Recruiting Bonuses Draws Fire

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., demanded that the Pentagon stop trying to take the money back. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., demanded that the Pentagon stop trying to take the money back. Molly Riley/AP file photo

California lawmakers are demanding cancellation of a Defense Department plan to “claw back” reenlistment bonuses given to California National Guard members at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, some 10,000 soldiers, many of them veterans of several tours of duty in combat, were ordered by the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau to repay enlistment bonuses of $15,000 or more. Auditors had found widespread overpayments by the California Guard and the soldiers, many of whom have moved into civilian life, are being threatened with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens, the newspaper reported. 

“Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets,” the article stated.

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On Sunday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., issued a statement promising to look into the clawbacks. “It is disgraceful that the men and women who answered their country’s call to duty following September 11 are now facing forced repayments of bonuses offered to them. Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters’ faults from over a decade ago. … The Department of Defense should waive these repayments and I will be requesting a full brief from Army and National Guard leadership.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., on Monday sent letters to Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services panels demanding that the clawback be overturned, either by the Pentagon or in the conference set for December to finalize the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

"The recent report regarding reenlistment bonuses being clawed back [is] extremely troubling,” Issa said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that the responsibility for paying for bureaucratic malfeasance and corruption over a decade ago is being laid at the feet of the heroes who put themselves in harm's way to keep our nation safe.”

The Guard Bureau has acknowledged, news reports said, bonus overpayments nationwide, but those in highly populated California were especially large.

“Although California Guard officials have pledged to work with veterans that wish to file appeals to the National Guard Bureau and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to clear these debts, this is insufficient,” Issa wrote. “Accountability demands much more.”

In a statement to Government Executive, Defense spokesman Army Maj. Jamie Davis said: “We take doing right by our service members very seriously, and the senior leadership of the department is looking very closely at this matter. There is a formal review process in place through which affected service members can be relieved of responsibility to repay improperly awarded bonuses. We continue to encourage service members affected by this situation to pursue those reviews and any relief they may be entitled to receive.”

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