The Pentagon will no longer seek to recover over payments from troops
After a week’s worth of bad press and the threat of Congressional hearings, the Pentagon has been ordered to immediately call the attempt to go after bonus overpayments made to 10,000 California National Guard soldiers who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The order came Wednesday, from the office of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and in a rare showing of bi-partisan support Democratic Congressman Sam Farr, of California, issued a press release that said the problem is solvable and he hopes the House takes up a bill to waive the repayments when it reconvenes in its lame duck session following the Nov. 8. election.
For Background read: National Guard Forcing Vets To Repay Reenlistment Bonuses
Farr said, “It’s a solvable problem,” and said he thought Congress could solve the $37 million problem during its the lame duck session, which convenes the week after the Nov. 8 election, or in the two-week session after Thanksgiving. If not, he said, the issue would have to be kicked to the new Congress which will be sworn in Jan. 3.
“We have so much unfinished business, including the (federal) budget,” Farr said in a telephone interview with the AP, Tuesday from his home in Carmel. “Obviously, we will try to get them a waiver so they don’t have to pay it back.”
Back in Washington, Speaker Ryan addressed the issue in a press briefing on Wednesday. “When those Californians answered the call to duty, they earned more from us than bureaucratic bungling and false promises,” said Ryan. He urged suspending collection efforts until “Congress has time … to protect service members from lifelong liability for DOD’s mistakes.”
The Los Angeles Times and the ASSOCIATED PRESS were the first to break this story after audits showed that overpayments by the California National Guard. Recruiters under pressure to fill ranks and hit enlistment goals at the height of the two wars in the Middle East improperly offered bonuses of $15,000 or more to soldiers who re-enlisted.
The National Guard began the process to get the money back and according to records about $22 million has been collected so far from fewer than 2,000 soldiers, spokesman for the California National Guard told the AP.
The bad press began to happen when members of the National Guard refused to pay the bonus back, they face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.
When stories began to come out that soldiers who had fought two and three times in Afghanistan and Iraq were having their homes taken away from them things began to happen. As each story broke it caused people throughout the United States to become outraged and in turn call their representative in Congress.
The news even brought a stern rebuke from President Barack Obama, who was quick to warn the Defense Department not to “nickel and dime” service members who were victims of fraud by overzealous recruiters.
Meanwhile, back in California the heat was being applied on a more local level. “Our soldiers deserve better and it’s up to the Department of Defense and Congress to fix this,” said Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for California Gov. Jerry Brown.
What Congress is attempting to do in this matter is to enact a defense authorization bill to be passed by the House, that would establish a statute of limitations on the military’s ability to recover future overpayments and scrutinize existing cases of service member debt. House and Senate negotiators are trying to finalize the bill and pass it during the post-election, lame-duck session.
According to Speaker Ryan, the bill an important step to establish a common standard for correcting accounting errors in the military. At the same time a bi-partisan group of members of the House and Senate oversight committees said they investigating the California Guard’s attempt to reclaim the re-enlistment bonuses.
ALL QUOTES IN THIS STORY CAME FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS