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Carter Orders Pentagon to Halt CA National Guard Bonus Paybacks

nat guard

By Debbie Gregory.

Calling the situation “unacceptable,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to suspend efforts to recover enlistment bonuses improperly given to thousands of California National Guard members during the height of the Iraq war.

The demand would have affected some 9,700 California Guard members who had received enlistment bonuses, student loans or other payments, mostly between 2006 and 2008.

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.

Carter gave senior officials in his department until the end of 2016 to set up a new and streamlined process that can ensure “the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases,” with a deadline of July 1, 2017 for all cases to be decided. He said the suspension would continue until he was “satisfied that our process is working effectively.”

“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.”

Carter said “hundreds of affected Guard members in California had sought and been granted relief” after filing appeals with the Pentagon.

“But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members,” he said. “That is unacceptable.”

The Pentagon says thousands of soldiers who received re-enlistment money weren’t eligible for the program — and years after paying out the money, it wants it back.

Some veterans have been sending hundreds of dollars a month to repay their bonuses; others have faced wage garnishment, interest accrual and a long appeals process. Soldiers say the appeals process is slow and nerve-wracking for their families.

“I want to be clear: This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members. Too many cases have languished without action,” Carter said. “That’s unfair to service members and to taxpayers.”

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Military Connection: Hagel’s Visit to Afghanistan: By Debbie Gregory

Hagel in Afghanistan

Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, his first since 2012. During the trip, Hagel announced the delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. service members from Afghanistan. This will happen during the transition to Operation Resolute Support (ORS), the post-2014 mission in the country still fighting Taliban and other terrorist groups.

Hagel was present at a joint press conference in Kabul, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Hagel discussed the reasons for the delayed withdrawal of some troops, and the transition from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission to ORS. Hagel also discussed how the Afghan Parliament approved the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

The Defense Secretary cited previous delays with signing the agreements for the later-than-expected withdrawal.

“This will mean a delayed withdrawal of up to 1,000 U.S. troops,” Hagel said, “so that up to 10,800 troop, rather than 9,800, could remain in Afghanistan through the end of this year and through the first few months next year.”

Hagel also mentioned that the mission and the long-term schedule for a withdrawal from Afghanistan were unchanged. The Pentagon leader said that U.S. forces in Afghanistan would continue to have the right and the capacity to defend themselves against attacks. The U.S. forces that remain in Afghanistan for Operation Resolute Support will continue to train and assist Afghan Security Forces. Hopefully, this will deter groups like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban from using Afghanistan as a safe haven from which to launch attacks on the U.S. and its allies.

Hagel, who recently tendered his resignation as Secretary of Defense, said that he observed progress in Afghanistan during his time in the Pentagon, and before with the U.S. Senate.

“I have seen, first-hand, over many years of visits to this country the enormous progress that this country has made in its development, in its democracy, in its possibilities and hope for all its people,” Hagel said. “And that, I think, is further testimony to the strong partnership of our two countries.”

NATO coalition forces will transition to Operation Resolute Support at the end of December, 2014. Then Afghan forces will assume full responsibility for their nation’s security, while U.S. and coalition forces will train, advise and assist.

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Military Connection: Hagel’s Visit to Afghanistan: By Debbie Gregory