California News Service
LOS ANGELES – It looks like thousands of California veterans will soon be released from any obligation to pay back millions of dollars to the Pentagon. The new agreement was folded into the latest National Defense Authorization Act, the defense appropriations legislation that the Senate takes up this week.
Roughly ten years ago, in an effort to increase the number of troops at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, 10,000 California National Guardsmen and women were incorrectly offered bonuses to re-up their service. Now, Congress appears to be coming together to protect them from their employer’s mistake.
Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Dist. 28, who represents the Greater Los Angeles area, said a tremendous number of veterans received these bonuses – and then years later, were targeted by the Pentagon for repayment.
“Several of these soldiers then paid them back, or suffered consequences in terms of their credit. Others really faced a terrible predicament because they used this money to buy a home or to get an education,” Schiff said. “It’s a terrible position to be in.”
Schiff’s petition to allow the guard members to keep the bonus money was widely supported. But the defense bill has been called bloated by detractors who object to increasing military spending by $3 billion beyond what the president had sought.
The bill would also give troops a pay raise of 2.1 percent – slightly more than the Pentagon had requested. And it specifically prohibits the Obama Administration from fulfilling its promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The defense appropriations bill is expected to pass in the Senate, and will likely be signed by the president. In the meantime, the Pentagon has until July 2017 to bring any cases against soldiers believed to have committed fraud in receiving bonuses. Schiff said he’s ready to stand by the vets.
“These soldiers had every right to feel betrayed,” he said. “They were made this bargain, they were offered these bonuses; there was no reason for them to question them. And for the Pentagon, so many years later, to come after them and essentially say, ‘You shouldn’t have been offered that bonus, we want you to pay it back’ – it’s just a terrible disservice.”
Schiff said he’s cautiously optimistic that Congress can work together to get things done in the New Year, as evidenced by this progress for veterans. He said he thinks common ground could be found with an infrastructure bill, to fix roads and update the telecommunications and energy grids.