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Veterans Forced to Repay Bonuses

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, October 25, 2015, US Representative Bradley Byrne called the news that veterans are being billed for bonuses paid years ago, “Absolutely absurd.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne said in a statement on social media, “Have you seen this story yet? It is absolutely absurd. Individuals serve their country, and now the government is asking them to pay back some of the money they earned? That is just plain wrong.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am committed to fighting this. In fact, we included a provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would set a timeline on how long the military can wait before attempting to recover overpayments.”

Ten years ago, the Pentagon enticed soldiers to re-enlist by offering large bonuses. Officials are now demanding that thousands of those veterans pay that money back.

Thousands of soldiers were given ~$15,000 bonuses to re-enlist. Unfortunately, thousands of those veterans were not eligible for the bonuses they received. The Los Angeles Times reported that only soldiers with specific assignments including intelligence, civil affairs and some non-commissioned officer posts were supposed to get the bonuses. The program, however, was mismanaged and corrupted by California Guard officials trying to meet enlistment targets. The California Guard’s incentive manager, retired Master Sergeant Toni Jaffe, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million.

Jaffe admitted that from the fall of 2007 through October 2009, she routinely submitted false and fictitious claims on behalf of her fellow California National Guard members, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

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The US Department of Justice said in a statement, “Jaffe admitted that she submitted claims to pay bonuses to members of the California National Guard whom she knew were not eligible to receive the bonuses and to pay off officer’s loans, even though she knew the officers were ineligible for loan repayment.” Sergeant was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

Three officers also pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution, the Times reported.

Thousands of the soldiers who benefitted from the fraud are now required to pay the money back.

To this point, auditors have confirmed 2,300 unauthorized bonus payments to about 2,000 soldiers, amounting to at least $22 million. This number includes 1,100 soldiers who received payments and those from the 5,400 figure who could not show proof. If the remaining recipients do not produce proper documentation showing they were eligible, they could be liable to pay back those amounts to the Defense Department.

Speaker of the House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) issued a statement on the Department of Defense’s demand for veterans to repay their bonuses. Ryan said, “When those Californians answered the call to duty they earned more from us than bureaucratic bungling and false promises. The House has already taken steps to fix this kind of injustice in the future. Now, the Pentagon should immediately suspend efforts to recover these overpayments, so Congress has time to complete the work we began in May to protect service members from lifelong liability for DOD’s mistakes.”

According to information provided by Speaker Ryan’s office, Section 642 of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on May 18, would establish a statute of limitations on the military’s ability to recover future overpayments and would scrutinize the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s management of existing cases of service member debt.

The Speaker’s office said that, “Section 642 is an important first step toward establishing a common standard for correcting accounting errors that apply equally to both the Department of Defense and the individual service member.”

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On Wednesday, after Byrne and Ryan’s comments, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the Pentagon is suspending its effort to call back the National Guard bonuses.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.


Original reporting by CNN and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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