National Guard Soldiers Forced to Repay Bonuses

National Guard soldiers must repay bonus payments

The Facebook posts and images you've seen are true. Thousands of National Guard soldiers, from all states, were over-payed reenlistment bonuses during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of them are being asked to return the money.

But the California National Guard soldiers are currently in the spotlight for three reasons - the CNG is one of the largest guard organizations with about 17,000 soldiers, the CNG was very liberal handing out bonus money, and the CNG elected not to forgive these improper payments, but instead seek repayment from veterans.

Most of these improper bonus payments came in the mid-2000s when the Army was in desperate need of NCOs for combat duties and certain high-priority MOSs. In many cases, though, bonuses were awarded to soldiers upfront in large assembly-line reenlistment ceremonies. It wasn't until 2010 - when reports of improper payments surfaced - that an internal audit of the CNG bonuses began.

That audit found Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the CNG's incentive manager, plead guilty to filing false claims of about $15.2 million and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three other officers were given probation after pleading guilty and paying restitution.

This is little comfort to the 9,700 active or retired California guardsmen, however, who have been ordered to pay back the bonus money - and threatened with interest payments, wage garnishing, or tax liens if they refuse.

While some soldiers are repaying the money, many are trying to appeal the repayment order. According to Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, the CNG is unable to forgive these debts and must pursue repayment.

However, in at least one case, the Pentagon forgave the repayment of a $15,000 bonus, since it was accepted by the soldier in good faith. That soldier, Bryan Strother, had previously filed a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in Sacramento asking to recover and return the money already repaid by CNG soldiers and forbid the government from pursuing further collections.

After Strother's bonus repayment was forgiven, the US Attorney in Sacramento has moved to dismiss Strother's lawsuit since his debt was forgiven. The judge is expected to rule on the government's motion in January.

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