Senators urge Department of Defense to restore National Guard bonuses

Michigan’s U.S. Senators Gary Peterx, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and Debbie Stabenow 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 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 investigated.

“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 people extended their time of service, deploying for second, third or fourth times. An Oct. 22 Los Angeles Times investigative report highlighted stories of several soldiers forced to repay those bonuses and associated benefits, even when received through no fault of the soldiers.

Joining Senz 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).