In an election season that hasn’t exactly been marked by bipartisan unity, members of the House of Representatives appeared to come together Monday in the face of news reports detailing an effort by the Pentagon to claw back bonuses paid to soldiers who agreed to serve additional time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten years ago, when wars in both countries were still raging, military recruiters were under immense pressure to keep their numbers up, and one way they did that was by offering reenlistment bonuses. The California National Guard was particularly generous with the bonuses -- too generous, as it turns out. Soldiers who weren’t supposed to be offered money to reenlist had bonuses dangled in front of them and many accepted them.
Now, the military is pursuing the soldiers who took the improperly offered bonus money, many of whom were wounded fighting for the US after accepting it. Some have been told that they owe the government tens of thousands of dollars, including interest and penalties, and have been forced to take extreme measures, including taking out second mortgages on their homes, to come up with the money.
After the Los Angeles Times ran a major story on the issue over the weekend, lawmakers from California, who happen to occupy some of the most senior positions in the House of Representatives, promised speedy action.
“It is disgraceful that the men and women who answered their country’s call to duty following September 11 are now facing forced repayments of bonuses offered to them,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday. “Our military heroes should not shoulder the burden of military recruiters’ faults from over a decade ago. They should not owe for what was promised during a difficult time in our country. Rather, we are the ones who owe a debt for the great sacrifices our heroes have made – some of whom unfortunately paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“The Department of Defense should waive these repayments and I will be requesting a full brief from Army and National Guard leadership,” he added. “The House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.”
“These brave Californians were willing to give everything to serve our country, and they earned every penny and benefit given to them,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “The overpayment of enlistment signing bonuses by the Department of Defense should not be the responsibility of our service members or veterans to pay back, years after the fact.”
Pelosi called on Republican leaders of both houses to address the issue as soon as Congress returns to Washington after the election.
“Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell must join with Congressional Democrats and pass a legislative fix as soon as we gavel back into session,” she said.
In a statement to Politico, AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan, pointed out that the House had included restrictions on such clawbacks in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, and said, “multiple House committees are currently following up on the specifics of this latest report.”