Count us among those who are appalled at the Department of Defense debacle dubbed the National Guard "clawback."
In the wake of a report by the LA Times that the Pentagon has demanded repayment of enlistment bonuses and incentives paid a decade ago to nearly 10,000 California guardsmen in exchange for their re-upping and then deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has now suspended the initiative.
"There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people," Secretary Carter said in a prepared statement issued by the DoD Wednesday. "That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word. Today, in keeping with that obligation, I am ordering a series of steps to ensure fair treatment for thousands of California National Guard soldiers who may have received incentive bonuses and tuition assistance improperly as a result of errors and in some cases criminal behavior by members of the California National Guard."
Well and good.
We do thank Secretary Carter for promising a streamlined process ... "that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own..."
However, we are not alone in spotting the rabbit hole amidst the political camouflage. The action - taken five years after the California Guard's incentive manager pleaded guilty to filing $15.2 million in fraudulent claims, and two years after Congress was informed of the program to recoup the funds - only suspends the clawbacks until such time the secretary is satisfied the "process is working effectively."
That provides no guarantee that those who re-enlisted and put their lives on the line won't have to, in fact, pay the money back once the sandstorm settles again. Nor does it mean the bid to recoup "improper" enlistment bonuses won't spread to other service personnel deemed to have received "too much."
A veteran's advocacy organization, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, summed this up succinctly:
"This is a good step from the Pentagon. But it is long overdue and far from enough," said IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff in a prepared statement. "Thousands of lives have been turned upside down and veterans who have served honorably are now in financial ruin through no fault of their own. While it's good for them to know recouping has been halted, that does not make them financially whole or address their urgent needs. Many will be stuck waiting for clarity and the results of the investigation until next year. The Pentagon needs to do more than just halt the recouping, it needs to pay them back-with interest."
To that end, the IAVA is "calling for the DoD and Congress to waive fees and repay servicemembers before Veterans Day this year."
#PayThemBack, a campaign and petition drive that demands the DoD forgive the error and pay back "any servicemembers who have already followed these orders," has been launched. (The drive, and its related #PayThemBack petition, may be found at www.change.org/p/department-of-defense-join-iava-in-telling-uncle-sam-to-paythemback )
While we certainly agree that a multi-million dollar fubar is hard to simply write off, we also agree that wringing the money from those who accepted in good faith the incentives offered is wrong.
Keep the faith. Pay them back. Dump the clawbacks. These service personnel earned the $15,000 or so "bonuses" they were promised- and then some.
- Breeze editorial