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.”
“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.