This week the IAVA Legislative Team has been out in full force on Capitol Hill to call on the Pentagon and Congress to work together to waive the forced repayment of thousands of dollars in re-enlistment bonuses received by service members more than ten years ago, and to make whole those who have already repaid those funds.
This matter came to light in last weekend’s Los Angeles Times story that detailed that a 2010 federal investigation found that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California National Guardsmen who did not qualify for them. Instead of forgiving overpayments, the California Guard completed an audit in September 2016, requiring 9,700 current and former soldiers to repay all or part of the bonuses.
As a result, servicemembers and veterans who have given years of their lives and have served in combat are now being put through financial hardship. Army Veteran Christopher Van Meter, in a New York Times story, said “I was having to choose between buying diapers and food for my children and paying this debt…I spent years of my life deployed, missed out on birthdays and deaths in the family, got blown up. It’s hard to hear after that that they say I haven’t fulfilled my contract.”
IAVA’s legislative team has been engaged this week with the Pentagon, Congressional leadership, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, and the California delegation. We have made it clear that IAVA and our 450,000 members will not accept anything less than for all the service members who, through no fault of their own were caught up in this bureaucratic mess, to be made whole. We have also made it clear that we want to know the depth of the problem, including whether it has occurred in other cases as has been reported.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has temporarily halted the collection of all repayments and is establishing a process to permanently resolve the issue. They intend for all cases to be heard, giving the benefit of a doubt to service members. They say they CANNOT give a blanket waiver and each case will have to be reviewed individually, with a goal in place of mid-summer 2017 for resolving all cases. DoD’s intended mechanism for resolving all cases is the Board for Corrections of Military Records (BCMR), and it will set up special and temporary review panels, aside from the BCMR, until these cases are cleared out. Further, the BCMR will have full authority to authorize repayment and forgive the debt.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have been very engaged and both have told IAVA that they won’t let this issue die before it’s fixed for affected service members. Also, the House Armed Services Committee is developing measures aimed at fixing the problem to be included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which will be finalized when Congress returns after the November elections.
IAVA will continue to hold Congress and DOD accountable for bringing this to a speedy resolution. We encourage you to join us in our fight by signing our #PayThemBack petition here. Let’s show folks what #VetsRising is all about!