While the Pentagon Wastes Billions of Dollars, Soldiers Are Forced to Repay Re-enlistment Bonuses

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and other countries) have dragged on for more than a decade, maintaining an all volunteer military force has become increasingly challenging.  The Department of Defense has relied on large cash incentives to keep the ranks filled, offering re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers in jobs that are in high demand.  (A former Air Force service member in the drone program told me about a re-enlistment, tax free, bonus of $72 thousand!)  Unfortunately, those bonuses were not always given to personnel that qualified for them.

Yesterday, it was reported by David S. Cloud in the Los Angeles Times that “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.”  According to Cloud, these “bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars.”

Cloud goes on to discuss several soldiers now faced with repaying these bonuses they had no idea they didn’t qualify for when they received them.  These are veterans who deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them wounded while serving.  While some have attempted to appeal the decision, that has proven to be a long and difficult process.  Meanwhile, the interest on the amount owed continues to accrue.

One soldier, Bryan Strother, faced with a total of $25,010.32 owed “for mistaken bonuses and student loans,” filed a class action lawsuit in February.  Cloud writes that Strother filed the suit “on behalf of all soldiers who got bonuses, claiming the California Guard ‘conned’ them into reenlisting.”  His lawsuit seeks an injuction to stop further collection, as well as the return of money already re-payed.

Strother was notified in August that the Pentagon would not require him to repay the money he had received in enlistment bonuses, and shortly thereafter, lawyers for the US Attorney “petitioned the court to dismiss Strother’s lawsuit, arguing that it was moot since most of his debt had been waived.”  This motion is set to be decided on by January.  If the case is dismissed, that would take care of the injunction request for all soldiers who received bonuses.

Cloud writes, “even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.”

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard.  “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts.  We just can’t do that.  We’d be breaking the law.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon remains unaccountable for vast sums of tax payer money.  Scot J. Paltrow wrote in this November 18, 2013 Reuters article, “the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments.  That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for.”

Matthew Gault wrote in his March 31, 2015 War Is Boring article that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion of the $66 billion that was allocated to the Pentagon for the task of rebuilding Afghanistan.  Gault states, “the Pentagon has a history of wasting billions in the country [Afghanistan] on bad projects, corrupt business partners and disreputable construction companies.”

“It wasted five years and $20 million refurbishing an old Soviet prison that still isn’t finished. The Air Force blew half a billion dollars on transport planes that never flew. It sold the aircraft for $32,000 worth of scrap.”

All that waste, fraud, corruption, bad spending, and lack of accountability for billions of dollars is apparently acceptable.  But when the Pentagon resorts to bribery to maintain its volunteer force (after all, a draft would likely put a stop to these wars pretty quickly), 10,000 soldiers who were mistakenly given bonuses for re-enlisting are forced to repay the money they received.

Sure, that makes sense.

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