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.