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This is Wrong and Not How We Should Treat Our Soldiers

A decade ago, nearly 10,000 members of the National Guard from California got enlistment bonuses. They had signed up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan and in some cases got $15,000.00 or more. Now the Pentagon wants the money back. Fraud and mismanagement at the California National Guard caused the payments.

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.

It is important to remember that the soldiers receiving the money did not participate in the fraud and mismanagement. The California National Guard wanted to induce enlistments and overpaid. Now the soldiers who put their lives on the line are being forced to pay back the money.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”

In Iraq, Van Meter was thrown from an armored vehicle turret — and later awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injuries — after the vehicle detonated a buried roadside bomb.

Susan Haley, a Los Angeles native and former Army master sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, said she sends the Pentagon $650 a month — a quarter of her family’s income — to pay down $20,500 in bonuses that the Guard says were given to her improperly.

A society that treats its soldiers like this is going to one day wake up to discover no one wants to protect the country. And why should they? They put their lives on the line and the nation then demands they indebt themselves financially due to someone else’s fault.

Congress really does need to step in here and make this right immediately. These soldiers should not have to pay back the money.

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