The California National Guard offered bonuses to soldiers for signing 3- to 6-year enlistments from 2006 to 2010. The Guard recently sent letters to the soldiers asking them to pay back the bonuses. Should these soldiers be required to return the bonuses?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-No soldier who has defended the country and has re-enlisted because of specifically needed skill sets should be required to return bonuses.  Also, any soldier willing to re-enlist to serve the country in time of need (combat tours) should not be made to return re-enlistment bonuses.

Reneging on the bonuses appears to be due to lack of oversight on the part of personnel in charge of the Army National Guard bonus program. Cases of fraud were reported due to recruiters and their orders from higher ups to keep enrollment numbers high.  Audits were completed and mistakes were made in thousands of contracts and were supposedly issued in violation of federal law.

Instead of investigating individual re-enlistment contracts and discovering whether there were criminal intentions with any of them, the Guard simply decided to not honor the re-enlistment bonuses and asked for their return. The purpose of the original incentive program was to retain numbers for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.  The numbers were maintained and once the war in Iraq ended, the Guard requested the return of the bonuses through letters to the individuals who had re-enlisted.  Various reasons were given as to termination of the re-enlistment contracts with a demand for return of the funds.  Many soldiers were forced to pay taxes and other penalties on the monies received and went into debt simply to try to repay what they deserved to received.

Honoring a contract is part of the honor of the military itself, and it is the legal thing to do. If there were discrepancies in the contracts during the 2006-2010 periods and the ensuing audit, the California Army National Guard is responsible to honor the contracts that were signed and completed.

Soldiers who risk life and limb and go into combat zones to fight terrorist regimes and ISIS deserve any bonus they receive, particularly if they have volunteered to offer their various specializations in combat zones and for extended periods of time.

According to a recent public report from the present Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, he has ordered the Pentagon to suspend any efforts to recover the re-enlistment bonuses to those California National Guard soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2006-2010 timeframe. Many of these same soldiers were recently told that they had to repay the cash bonuses ($15,000) or more, but Carter assured former soldiers that there would be assistance provided for relief of the repayments.

Whether any of these soldiers continue to be burdened with repayment of the bonuses, and the Pentagon continues to pursue repayment, there is a real sense of betrayal and abandonment of these soldiers who simply wanted to serve the country through their skills and loyalty to the cause of freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s demand for repayment is a slap in the face of any veteran who has sacrificed years of service to protect and defend the country. The Pentagon needs to maintain a permanent suspension of their efforts to recoup the bonuses.  Instead of trying to force repayment, these soldiers need to be released from any payment obligations and thanked for what they have done to protect America.  

 

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-From what I have been able to glean, the California National Guard bonus issue is not as cut and dried as it might seem.  There was malfeasance on the part of some Guard members, and some bonuses were paid in error. However, with the usual ham-handed administration of blanket justice for which our military bureaucracy has become famous, the decision was made to yank this money back from all the Guard members who’d claimed it, 99 percent of whom were rightfully entitled to the money.

Our military members, especially in the current world climate, put themselves in harm’s way constantly.  Attacks can come from organized forces, terrorist bands or random nuts with a grudge and the internet-fueled access to weaponry beyond their competency.  They perform jobs for a pittance that in the civilian world would land them upper middle class wages.  When they are offered a bonus to keep their talents in service to the country, every benefit of the doubt should be given to them and every scale should be tipped in their favor to allow them to keep their money.

We still, despite what some would have you believe, have the best military on the planet. There’s not another force on earth that can stand before the full might of our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The only way that fact will remain is if we treat our service members properly.  The scandal within the VA health system is a blot on our national conscience, with veterans receiving care that would be excoriated were it offered to the indigent.  Let’s not make the situation even worse by dangling the carrot of financial gain in front of soldiers to get them to re-enlist, only to yank it away (indeed after it’s already been spent in many cases) and tell the cheated parties that they still have to serve their agreed terms.

 

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-When a group such as the California National Guard (CNG) negotiates in apparent good faith with thousands of soldiers and offers bonuses for enlisting or re-enlisting, those negotiations should become a legally binding contract as soon as the soldier signs on the dotted line.  The fact that many of the bonuses were fraudulently offered by recruiters to meet recruitment goals does not give CNG officials the right to require the soldiers to return that money.

At least one recruiter was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to prison.  Anyone convicted of this crime should be held liable to repay that money to the extent it can be collected.  Some of the lost dollars should be recouped by withholding bonuses or raises to superiors of the guilty recruiters.  Their lax oversight allowed the fraud to occur in the first place.  Private banks and other businesses are extremely careful about their finances.  Government agencies of any sort should be equally diligent and have in place checks and balances that prevent ninety-nine percent of frauds from happening.

If certain soldiers knew they weren’t eligible for signing bonuses but participated in the fraud, they should be required to return the money along with interest and penalties.  But it is an insult and a disgrace to any soldier who acted in good faith to ask them to return their bonuses.  Those requested repayments should be waived.

How dare the government nitpick for a few dollars when these people are willing to put their lives on the line for their country at any moment?  Unfortunately, it seems to be another example of expecting the ultimate from our military but paying them little or nothing in return—either in pay, health care, support, jobs, PTSD counseling, or help with transitioning back to civilian life.

 

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