Peters, Stabenow & Colleagues Urge Department of Defense to Restore National Guard Bonuses
WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senators Gary Peters (MI), a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and Debbie Stabenow (MI) joined 28 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter urging U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to restore bonuses and benefits incorrectly awarded to National Guard soldiers in California through no fault of their own. The Department of Defense has sought to recoup the wrongly awarded benefits after an audit found that due to faulty paperwork, mistakes by recruiters, and at least one case of criminal fraud, soldiers who did not qualify for the bonuses had received them. For those soldiers who have not already paid back the wrongly awarded bonuses, the Senators ask that the Defense Department make the process for considering debt forgiveness easy to navigate. They also commended Secretary Carter for taking speedy action to suspend recoupment efforts until the situation can be more fully understood.
“Current reports allege that most, if not all, of the rank and file members of the California Guard simply accepted a bonus which they should not have been offered. If this is the case, then we believe these debts should be forgiven. For those who have already undertaken the burden to repay them, the Department should return the amount recouped, along with appropriate compensation,” wrote the Senators. “Additionally, we ask that you determine whether soldiers in other states and other components have been impacted.”
During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Congress approved the Army to offer the most generous reenlistment bonuses in history for certain military specialties that were in high demand. As a result, tens of thousands of men and women extended their time of service, deploying for second, third or fourth times. An October 22 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times highlighted the stories of several soldiers forced to repay those bonuses and associated benefits, even when they were received through no fault of the soldiers.
Joining Senators Peters and Stabenow in sending the letter to the Department of Defense were Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Burr (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE.), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Patty Murray (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Warner (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Corey Booker (D-NJ), Robert Casey (D-PA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The text of the letter is below or available here:
Dear Secretary Carter:
We write with deep concern about recent reports about the Department’s recoupment of bonuses and education benefits improperly awarded to Soldiers through no fault of their own during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We agree that those who dedicate themselves to service deserve our gratitude, respect, and full support, and we appreciate your decision to immediately suspend collection of reimbursement and establish a process to review the matter fully.
Current reports allege that most, if not all, of the rank and file members of the California Guard simply accepted a bonus which they should not have been offered. If this is the case, then we believe these debts should be forgiven. For those who have already undertaken the burden to repay them, the Department should return the amount recouped, along with appropriate compensation.
We ask that you provide in a timely manner any request for authorities needed from Congress to make this course of action possible. If, however, you determine that this is not the case, we ask to be included in any report of your findings. Additionally, we ask that you determine whether soldiers in other states and other components have been impacted.
Finally we agree with you that the men and women who serve our country are our nation’s most valuable asset. Please provide a summary of the actions the Department has taken to reemphasize the importance of running a process for rectification that is easy to navigate, as well as any recommendations for changes to authorities to meet that goal should you feel you need them.
Thank you for the prompt attention and focus on our Soldiers that you have shown so far to solve this problem.
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