October 25, 2016
By Lorra B.
Thousands of California Army National Guard Soldiers who were given reenlistment bonuses over 10 years ago are being asked by the Pentagon to give the money back.
Feeling the mounting pressure to enlist soldiers during peak war time, California Guard officials overpaid reenlistees. The Los Angeles Times said that many to the 10,000 soldiers ordered to repay the bonuses served and risked their lives during several combat tours.
“Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets,” writes The Los Angeles Times.
Soldiers, however, insist that they reenlisted in good faith and served their times, that now the military wants to renege on their agreements.
The financial burden this would place on these soldiers would be severe.
Christopher Van Meter, a former Army captain, stated, “These bonuses were used to keep people in.” The 42-year-old Van Meter stated that he had to refinanced his home mortgage to repay the “$25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received.”
“People like me just got screwed,” says the angry Van Meter.
Army Sergeant Robert Richmond said he is not going to pay back his $15,000 bonus, per The Times.
“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said. While in Iraq, Richmond sustained permanent injuries due to a roadside bomb attack.
The Army, however, states that Richmond wasn’t eligible to receive the bonus at the time because he had already served in the Army for 20 years.
Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, said that they would be happy to relieve these soldiers of their debts but to do so would be breaking the law.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarther released a statement that the repayments should be waved and that the matter would be thoroughly investigated so that the soldiers involved “are fully honored for their service.”
“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,” he stated. “They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country. Rather, we are the ones who owe a debt for the great sacrifices our heroes have made – some of whom unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice..”
Of the 14,000 California Guard soldiers who received incentive bonuses, 9,700 retired and current soldiers have been informed they are to repay their bonuses. So far the California Guard has recovered $22 million dollars.
It will likely be many years before this issues is put to rest as many soldiers refuse to comply and protests and appeals continue.
By Lorra B