The Pentagon received a lot of heat this week when The Los Angeles Times reported officials demanded California National Guard soldiers repay bonuses the government enticed them with to reenlist and go to war. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced he will suspend this program:

“Today, in keeping with that obligation, I am ordering a series of steps to ensure fair treatment for thousands of California National Guard soldiers who may have received incentive bonuses and tuition assistance improperly as a result of errors and in some cases criminal behavior by members of the California National Guard.”

He added:

“There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people. That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word,”

The report sent shockwaves through Congress, bringing together Democrats and Republicans to demand the Pentagon stop asking for the soldiers to repay this income. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became one of the most vocal critics:

“These brave Californians were willing to give everything to serve our country, and they earned every penny and benefit given to them,” Pelosi said Monday in a brief statement.

“The overpayment of enlistment signing bonuses by the Department of Defense should not be the responsibility of our service members or veterans to pay back, years after the fact,” she added. “Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell must join with Congressional Democrats and pass a legislative fix as soon as we gavel back into session.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that the California National Guard promised $15,000 in bonuses to soldiers to reenlist and go overseas:

Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.

Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.

But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.

The National Guard Bureau chief noted that an investigation found “13,500 cases where bonuses or student loan payments were distributed, about 11,000 were found to have been given erroneously, due to ineligibility or due to not having the proper paperwork.”

Carter gave no timetable on the suspension, but hopes to resolve all cases by July 1, 2017. He also said that he put together a team “to assess the situation and establish no later than Jan. 1, 2017, a streamlined, centralized process that ‘ensures the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases.'”

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