Defense secretary suspends collections from National Guard soldiers ordered to repay bonuses

The Washington Post

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that he has ordered the Pentagon to suspend its efforts to collect payment from California Army National Guard soldiers who were told to return their enlistment bonuses.

Carter announced a number of steps to resolve the cases of thousands of soldiers who collectively received millions of dollars in bonuses at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then were told years later that the money had to be repaid.

In a statement, Carter said that he had ordered the Pentagon's financial department to halt the payment collection until measures can be put in place to provide the affected service members with the support they need to appeal the process.

"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," Carter said in a statement. "Hundreds of affected Guard members in California have sought and been granted relief. But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members. That is unacceptable."

While the Pentagon has said that up to 10,000 California National Guard soldiers may have been affected, other National Guard soldiers throughout the country received similar payments. The instances affecting the California National Guard were first reported by the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. Some of the cases have been subject to a criminal investigation that started when recruiters promised bonuses to soldiers, even though they were not authorized to.

Carter's announcement comes after several days of members of Congress calling for him to act. On Monday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform opened an investigation and requested all documents associated with the California cases. They also asked for senior officers with the California Army National Guard and the National Guard Bureau to brief committee members by Nov. 17.

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