- Flickr/The U.S. Army
Congress knew the Pentagon had mistakenly paid out huge cash bonuses to National Guard soldiers that they would later be forced to pay back at least two years ago, according to a senior National Guard official.
In an email sent to California’s state congressional delegation on Monday, California’s chief of federal policy and liaison Andreas Mueller warned that the crisis – which currently affects nearly 10,000 soldiers who are being forced to pay back bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars – could affect many more states.
Mueller also said the Guard had informed Congress of the problem two years ago, though it did nothing to fix it, according to the Los Angeles Times, which broke the story on Sunday.
“It’s important to note that we’ve kind of led the way in trying to solve this,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beavers told The Washington Post.
The California Guard even sent draft legislation to each California congressional office in 2014, but it went nowhere at the time due to the cost. Unfortunately, that cost is now being passed on to the soldiers who accepted the mistaken bonus payments and are struggling to repay debts of $15,000 or more.
“When I first got the letter, I was angered and then felt betrayed,” Todd Percival, a former California Guard member, told CBS. “I opened the letter and it said I owe them $20,000 and I have 30 days to pay them back.”
They currently have little recourse, since protesting or failing to pay will result in interest and penalty charges, along with calls from debt collectors. The DoD has a website where soldiers can submit an appeal here.
“It is unthinkable that these brave Americans who stepped forward when others did not after the 9/11 attacks are being left high and dry by their leadership,” Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement.
Many in Congress and other political leaders echoed that sentiment in statements this week, including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), and presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) called the payback demands “boneheaded.”
Still, it’s not yet clear whether those critical of the Pentagon knew ahead of time that this would eventually happen. According to Mueller’s letter, every congressional office in California received legislation that would have fixed it.
Business Insider left messages with a number of members, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R), Rep. Darrell Issa (R), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R). Only Hunter’s office responded.
“We all have the benefit of hindsight here,” said Joe Kasper, Hunter’s Chief of Staff. But “the size and scope of this was never conveyed.” Kaspar also pointed out that, according to current law, the Secretary of Defense has the power to immediately halt recoupment of bonuses.
This post was updated on Oct. 25, 2016 at 12:49 p.m. PDT.