Pentagon says it won’t try to recover enlistment bonuses after uproar

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SAN BERNARDINO, CA - AUGUST 22: Soldiers attend their farewell ceremony for about 850 California National Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion, 185th Armor on August 22, 2008 in San Bernardino, California. In the largest California National Guard single-unit deployment since the Korean War, the soldiers will spend about two months at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin before the start of a year-long deployment to Iraq. In Iraq, the armor battalion with be conducting convoy security throughout the country. The unit will be augmented with two California National Guard infantry companies, A company, 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry based out of Visalia, California and B company, 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry from Dublin, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Wednesday he is suspending “all efforts to collect reimbursement” from improperly awarded enlistment bonuses given to some members of the California National Guard, following outrage from veterans and their families over attempts to recover the money 10 years after it was disbursed.

“I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical,” Carter said in a statement, adding this suspension will continue until “I am satisfied that our process is working effectively.”

4 Fast Facts

  • Pentagon won’t try to recover enlistment bonuses given out 10 years ago
  • The Department of Defense gave the bonuses to members of the California National Guard
  • Defense Secretary Ash said efforts to collect the bonuses would be suspended
  • The California National Guard said it didn’t have authority to waive the debts

“There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people,” Carter added in his statement, adding, “While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not.”

After investigators uncovered rampant fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials trying to meet enlistment targets, the California National Guard has said it was required to try to recuperate the erroneously awarded funds, and does not have the authority to unilaterally waive the debts.

Peter Levine, the acting undersecretary for personnel and readiness, told reporters Wednesday that 4,000 members will get to keep their bonuses. An additional 3,100 are out of the military already and difficult to locate, 1,100 were erroneously overpaid and 5,400 had a problem collecting after a government audit was complete.

Of the 5,400, it’s estimated that 2,000 still have payments being collected and those will be suspended. The Defense Department will review current cases on an individual basis and people out of the military can also apply to be reviewed.

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