By Debbie Gregory.
The Pentagon announced it would waive repayment for more than 15,000 California National Guard soldiers and veterans who received enlistment bonuses over the last decade.
The Defense Department will begin notifying soldiers this month, with all of the notifications completed before July 1st.
The announcement follows President Obama’s December 23rd signing of the defense authorization bill into law. The bill contained language that required the Pentagon to conduct a case-by-case review of the California Guard bonuses, waiving repayment unless a soldier took the money fraudulently or did not fulfill his or her enlistment contract.
Bonuses of $15,000 or more were previously recalled, years after recipients had completed their military service. Student loan repayments, which were given to some soldiers with educational loans, sometimes totaled as much as $50,000.
A Pentagon review had found a total of 17,500 bonuses were paid to California Guard soldiers from 2004 to 2010.
Of those, 1,400 soldiers had been ordered to begin repaying a bonus or student loan incentive, while another 16,000 had been notified that they could face debt collection.
About 50 percent of the 1,400 who have been repaying their bonuses are likely to have the debts waived and their money returned.
Unfortunately, 1,000 or so other service members will not have their debts waived. In most cases, repayments will be from soldiers who decided not to fulfill their six-year enlistment terms or other terms of their contract.
Pentagon officials have said California was distinct in scale and because a handful of soldiers fraudulently took bonuses.
Most of the improper bonuses in California were processed by Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
National Guard soldiers in states other than California who have been ordered to repay bonuses are not eligible for the debt forgiveness that Congress approved for California.