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California Guard Troops Won't Have To Repay Bonuses

Members of the California National Guard stand in formation before undertaking operations on California's southern border, September 2010.
California National Guard
Members of the California National Guard stand in formation before undertaking operations on California's southern border, September 2010.

California Guard Troops Won't Have To Repay Bonuses
California Guard Troops Won't Have To Repay Bonuses GUEST: David S. Cloud, reporter, Los Angeles Times

I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Wednesday, November 30. Our top story on Midday Edition come the story provoked almost unanimous outrage for California National Guard veterans who had been given signing bonuses to reenlist to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan where told the bonuses where a mistake and they had to pay them back. The public outrage was apparently enough to get Congress to do something. They have announced a deal to forgive the enlistment bonuses debt. Joining me is a David Cloud, a reporter with the Los Angeles times who reported on the enlistment bonus pay back. Welcome to the program. What exactly does this deal from lawmakers allow the Pentagon to do? It allows the Pentagon to stop recruitment of the bonuses that have been going on for years. It stops the recruitment and request the Pentagon to look at each individual case and decide whether the money actually needs to be repaid. Essentially tells the Pentagon that unless there is fraud or the soldier knew that he or she should not have qualified for the bonus that they should let the money not be repaid. How many at the roughly 10,000 affected soldiers will actually get their debts forgiven under this proposal? It is impossible to say with complete certainty but according to lawmakers, it is likely to result in most of those 8700 soldiers getting relief of some sort whether all or some other bonuses that they have been told to repay. Why couldn't the Department of Defense forgive the debts without this bill? At the asserted a process of doing that. Congress intervened because they are concerned about two things, we have a new administration coming in and who knows what they would do on this issue and two, they wanted to make sure that the Pentagon did not go too far in still requiring soldiers to repay the money for the Pentagon has a concern here which is a larger concern which is there are soldiers out there across the country not just in California who have gotten bonuses and they will worry about setting a precedence that would prevent them or at least make it more difficult for them to go after improper bonuses paid elsewhere. There some concern the Pentagon was going to be stingy in giving relief to soldiers of Congress intervened to make sure that the relief was as broad as possible. The members of the California National Guard who have been paying back the bonuses that they got by mistake, how are they going to be recompensed? There is a provision in the deal which says if you have already pay back some or all of your bonus, the Pentagon will pay you back. There's another provision in there, the federal government never does things by half measures so in some cases people who had these debts or reported to credit agencies for having massive $15,000, to $30,000 debt but there's another provision that says the Pentagon has to go to credit agencies and tell you the debts or invalid to make all or at least as well as they can. I understand if the government repays the veterans they will be repaid with interest is that right? That is the intention. It is hard to tell exactly how they will determine all of that because each situation is different. Some people have three not just refinanced homes to have this money. Others have taken loans. It is hard to determine how they will decide what is a proper amount of interest but that is certainly the intention. That you reported last month that the National Guard could not find about 4000 of the 10,000 soldiers involved in the controversy. Why we're they having such a hard time and is that still the case? Said the soldier still out there in the National Guard does not know how to contact them? Get to keep in mind a lot of these bonuses are paid a decade or more ago. Many people who got the money didn't their time as required in the army, some went to Iraq and Afghanistan and they got out it may have moved out of California. As it turned out as the California guard tried to find these people they did not have current addresses. They would make an attempt to find them and took it over to the treasury department which has a better ability to tax records etc. to track people down across the United States. They would track people down and put tax liens and other pretty restrictive financial penalties on people. Think now that the Pentagon has engaged in this thing that is likely what will happen. The California guard still probably cannot find a good number of these people who have not responded to their initial letters but the federal government has a lot more ability to track people down and now that they are offering relief, people are more likely to respond to inquiries from the federal government and the Pentagon. Is now that there has been this deal reached by lawmakers, will the letters for repayment still be going out? Is that completely stopped? As best we know it has been stopped. The National Guard Bureau which is the Pentagon agency that oversees the California guard and all card organizations sent out a letter last week to people that they knew where Pingback money and I think are supposed to -- Pingback money over supposed to pay back money think they can stop paying back. The Pentagon is trying to track down everyone who owes money to a central money back to them. As best we can tell, people are being informed that they can stop repayment at the moment although they sought to go through a process that will take months really through next July to have a final determination that there might debt has been waived if it in fact is waived. A hype in speaking -- I have been speaking with a David Cloud with the LA times. Thank you. My pleasure.

House and Senate negotiators have agreed to forgive the debts of thousands of California National Guard troops who had been ordered by the Pentagon to repay enlistment bonuses. Those bonuses had been incentives for service in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago.

A provision in the annual defense policy bill to be filed Wednesday requires the Pentagon to waive the recoupment of a bonus unless there is evidence showing service members "knew or reasonably should have known" that they weren't eligible to receive the money. A vote in the House on the must-pass defense bill is expected by Friday, followed by action in the Senate next week.

The Guard offered enlistment bonuses of as much as $15,000 and student loan aid at the height of the two wars in the 2000s.