Pentagon Waves Payback From California National Guard Members

ca national guard

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Defense will allow 17,092 California National Guard members to keep more than $190 million in disputed enlistment bonuses and other payments.

A Defense Department report concluded that there was no wrong-doing on the part of the majority of California Guard soldiers who accepted bonuses of between $15,000 and $80,000 each. In fact, only 393 soldiers have been ordered to return the money, chiefly due to disciplinary action or criminal conduct.

The bonuses 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. The soldiers, who received the bonuses, took the money in good faith, served honorably, and fulfilled their enlistment contracts, often serving in war zones.

The forgiveness represents a retreat by the Defense Department and the California Guard from the aggressive recoupment effort, which included tax liens, wage garnishments and other heavy-handed tactics to try to recover the bonuses it paid for enlistment or reenlistment between 2004 to 2010. According to the report, the California Guard paid more than $233 million in bonuses and student loan repayments to fill its enlistment goals.

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.

Many soldiers ordered to repay the large sums were slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refused or could not.

Going forward, the National Guard has put in place new computer software that is intended to ensure that bonuses are not given out improperly, and California has adopted the system, the report said.

But nothing has been said about an apology to those who were caught up in this unfortunate situation.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Protecting CA National Guard Members from Unfair Bonus Paybacks


By Debbie Gregory.

From 2005-2010, when the U.S. military was trying to recruit and retain enough troops to fight two wars simultaneously, a number of generous bonus programs were implemented. But apparently due diligence was not done through the proper channels.  This, coupled with the extreme pressure put on recruiters to meet high enlistment and reenlistment quotas resulted in thousands of servicemembers receiving bonuses that they were not entitled to.

In 2011, a whistleblower from within the California Guard exposed fraud within the California National Guard bonus program.

As a result, the Army and the National Guard Bureau directed the California National Guard to audit more than 30,000 bonus and student loan repayment records. Of the 14,000 Soldiers whose records were audited, 9,700 were found to have improperly received bonuses or student loan repayments (or both).

The Soldier Incentive and Assistance Center (SIAC) serves as an advocate for affected soldiers who received these benefits in good faith. The SAIC offers legal and administrative support that has allowed some 4,000 Soldiers to apply to the Army and have their debt forgiven.

The California National Guard, a state agency, cannot waive the debts, as that authority rests at the federal level. Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to recover enlistment bonuses. The demand would have affected some 9,700 California Guard members.

Soldiers argued that it was unfair to require them to repay the money — often $15,000 or more per soldier — when their only mistake was to take financial incentives that recruiters offered. Many served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some were badly wounded.

“Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own,” Carter said. “At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.