CreditChris Kaufman/Appeal-Democrat, via Associated Press
“NEW YORK TIMES”
“The program to claw back military signing bonuses should never have happened.
When confidence in military opportunities is lost, the all-volunteer-force model fails.What is clear is that the roughly 9,700 veterans did not cause this problem but, instead, honored their commitments faithfully.
The hounding of nearly 10,000 California National Guard veterans to repay money that was mistakenly given for re-enlisting at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was not just ungrateful. It was poor strategy.
Imagine being a recent high school or college graduate considering career options. Your recruiter promises you a generous bonus in exchange for a few years of being told where to live, where to work and what time to wake up — while, by the way, possibly getting shot or blown up and killed. You would also be required to subject yourself to a justice system that could send you to prison for a disagreement with your boss.
Now, should you believe in the good faith and fair dealing of those promising the bonus, or should you take note of the veterans who have had to refinance their homes, take second jobs and repair ruined credit thanks to buyers’ remorse expressed by those who sent a previous generation to war? Can you confidently believe that the “bonus” isn’t really a loan, one that will require interest once the government changes its mind and decides to recoup it many years later? When that confidence in military opportunities is lost, the all-volunteer-force model fails.
As patriotic as veterans are, the men and women who voluntarily joined the National Guard and went to Iraq and Afghanistan were not obligated to go into harm’s way. Their decision to volunteer — often for multiple tours during two major wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan — was based on the understanding that the government would providepromised incentives, including the payment of student loans for those who signed on the dotted line to re-enlist.
Whether the bonus overpayments were awarded because of bureaucratic incompetence or fraud on the part of those administering the program is beside the point. And the Pentagon openly acknowledges that the problem is not restricted to just the Golden State. The misdeeds of a few administrators do not justify the punishment of the unknowing masses.
Even those who never served in the military would be hard pressed to find examples of private-sector companies seeking restitution for their own mistakes inflicted on employees a decade earlier. The bonuses, which amounted to $15,000 or more in some cases, were neither lavish nor out of the ordinary given the nature and risk of the services required.
The California National Guard itself is calling for relief. “The California National Guard does not have the authority to unilaterally waive these debts,” the service said in a statement. “However, the California National Guard welcomes any law passed by Congress to waive these debts.”
The American Legion, founded by World War I veterans in 1919, is the nation’s largest veterans organization, with 2.2 million members — of which several hundred have been directly affected by this scandal. The American Legion joins the California National Guard in its plea, and we call on all members of Congress to pause from their political campaigns and get to work on providing immediate and full relief to those who have been affected.
Reportedly, some members of Congress were briefed on the situation two years ago. Now that the details are out in the open, there is no excuse for inaction.
While Secretary Carter’s announcement is a welcome start, we need to know what steps will be taken to reimburse the veterans who already submitted to Pentagon pressure and repaid bonuses that, in their eyes, they had truly earned through their service to this nation. For some veterans, this will require steps to be taken by the Department of Defense to restore the damage done by government action to their credit ratings. We must also have assurance that such a fiasco will never occur again.
The White House and the Congress owe the American people and those who have served their country a full resolution of these issues.”