A decade after thousands of soldiers reenlisted for combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re receiving terrible news. Recruiters wooed these soldiers into continuing their service with bonuses of up to $15,000, and now the Pentagon demands they return the money. All of this ruckus began when an audit showed that the California Guard overpaid during the enlistment phase for these conflicts, and now the soldiers face wage garnishment and tax liens. To add insult to financial injury, the Pentagon wants “interest and penalties” for what’s being described as “unpaid delinquent debt.”
Robert Richmond spoke with the LA Times about his 2007 tour of duty as a special forces soldier in the so-called “Triangle of Death” (the Iraqi town of Hillah known for dangerous bouts of conflict). He suffered permanent back and brain injuries due to a roadside bomb exploding, but in 2014, Richmond received a letter demanding his bonus back upon threat of “debt collection action.” Over the past few years, thousands of other soldiers in California received the same communication. Stars and Stripes places this number at ten thousand veterans and active-duty soldiers, all of whom are stunned.
Richmond relates how California Guard headquarters told him he had been ineligible for any type of enlistment bonus, since he already held 20 years under his Army belt. He insists that he’d only served 15, but nonetheless, he has refused to return the $15,000, which has ruined his credit. CNN relates a similar story from Army veteran Christopher Van Meter, who was thrown from an armored vehicle in Iraq and earned a Purple Heart. He was persuaded to reenlist just prior to his planned retirement after 15 years of service, and he recently remortgaged his home in order to pay back his bonus.
All of this takes place now because of improper oversight and “widespread fraud” by enlisting officials. Col. Michael S. Piazzoni (who assisted in the audits) stated, “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”
Naturally, folks are incensed. California House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has declared these repayment requirements to be “disgraceful,” and he’s demanding action: “The House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.” McCarthy wants the Department of Defense to waive requests for these repayments, although the process is guaranteed to be a slow one, if it happens.