In the wake of anger from politicians and the public alike, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to halt the seeking of enlistment bonus repayments from thousands of California National Guard members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to the Associated Press, Carter’s decision comes after mounting public anger followed reports that soldiers were being asked to give back payments that in some cases totaled more than $25,000. Although the collection process is still in effect, the order puts things on hold while a “long-term solution” is sought out.
In a statement, Carter said collection should stop “as soon as is practical,” adding that he has given the department a deadline to set up a streamlined process by January 1.
“This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members,” Carter said. “Too many cases have languished without action. That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”
This past weekend, the Pentagon demanded that thousands of soldiers repay their enlistment bonuses after audits revealed overpayments by the California National Guard. Recruiters who were under pressure to hit enlistment goals during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan offered bonuses of $15,000 or more to soldiers who re-enlisted.
Soldiers who fail to repay the bonuses could face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.
From the AP:
While some soldiers “knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not,” Carter said, adding that the new process will put “as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own. At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”
The Pentagon hopes to complete all cases by next July 1. As many as 6,500 California National Guard soldiers have been asked to repay the enlistment bonuses.
“I’m glad the Pentagon came to its senses,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had pressed the Pentagon to suspend the program.
Carter said that “under the law” he has to allow the collection process to continue, but there’s “definitely discussion which involves not only the … paramount issue of fairness but there is also the law, and so I think we need to look at that simultaneously.”