Thanks for nothing

Bonus scandal caused by incompetent lawmakers

While the Pentagon’s pencil pushers scramble to halt the collection of overpayments from National Guard soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, a couple of old military acronyms come to mind.

Some might call the situation a SNAFU, but in reality, it’s completely FUBAR.

The Los Angeles Times reported in October that the Pentagon was demanding repayments of enlistment bonuses from more than 9,700 California Army National Guard soldiers because the bonuses were either too large or paid in error. For many, the bonuses reached $15,000 or more.

This, of course, prompted outrage from our lawmakers.

“I find it difficult to believe that either you or your leadership team was aware that such a boneheaded decision was made to demand repayment,” U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, wrote to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

“These brave Californians were willing to give everything to serve our country, and they deserve every penny and benefit given to them,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

It’s an election year after all, and neither party wants to look like it doesn’t care about combat veterans.

Here’s where it goes from a standard, bureaucratic SNAFU to being FUBAR.

Congress — specifically the California delegation — knew about this for at least two years and did nothing.

In fact, according to some reports, retired National Guard soldiers have been facing wage garnishments or making monthly payments to the Defense Department for at least three years.

So when Congressman Hunter calls the Pentagon “boneheaded,” he should look in the mirror. And when Pelosi says these soldiers “deserve every penny and benefit given to them,” she should ask herself why she didn’t stop it.

They have no one to blame — no one — but themselves.

What’s more, the National Guard says the problem likely reaches beyond California’s border because the Golden State was the only one to be audited.

Carter, to his credit, has stopped all repayments until a solution can be found. But what he said while doing so is baffling.

“While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not,” Carter said.

Should have known?

An American signs up to be a “part time” soldier, as it’s advertised on TV. During the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he is asked to re-enlist and deploy — often multiple times — to the battlefield. In exchange, the Guard promises a bonus.

That soldier is supposed to know that the Army overpromised on incentives?

For its part, the Guard suggested a fix in its notice to Congress two years ago. “Thousands of soldiers have inadvertently incurred debt, through no fault of their own, because of faulty Army recruiting or accounting practices and malicious individuals,” the Guard said.

In fact, the California Guard’s former incentive manager is serving 30 months in federal prison for filing false claims of $15.2 million — which came to light back in 2010 after a federal investigation.

The quick fixes our lawmakers are proposing — one is in the Defense appropriation bill that passed the House — are unclear on whether they will absolve the debts owed by soldiers outside of California, those that re-enlisted more than 10 years ago and those that were wounded in combat.

And what of those who have already starting repaying their supposed debt? Again, no answer.

“Thousands of our service members are paying the price for mistakes made by California National Guard managers, some of whom are now serving jail time or paying restitution for their crimes,” California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer said in their own letter to Cater. “It is outrageous to hold these service members and their families responsible for the illegal behavior of others.”

It is outrageous. But more outrageous is the fact that Feinstein, Boxer, Pelosi, Hunter and the rest knew this was coming and failed to fix it.

That’s what you call FUBAR.



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About the Author'

Tom Chambers

Tom Chambers is the editor of the Military Press.