WASHINGTON, DC -- U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are urging U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to restore bonuses and benefits incorrectly awarded to National Guard soldiers through no fault of their own. The Department has sought to recoup the wrongly awarded benefits after an audit found that, due to faulty paperwork, mistakes by recruiters, and at least one case of criminal fraud, soldiers who did not qualify for the bonuses had received them.
Udall and Heinrich sent a letter led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), along with a bipartisan group of other senators, to Secretary Carter. For those soldiers who have not already paid back the wrongly awarded bonuses, the senators also asked that the Defense Department make the process for considering debt forgiveness easy to navigate. They also commended Secretary Carter for taking speedy action to suspend recoupment efforts until the situation can be more fully understood.
The senators wrote: “Current reports allege that most, if not all, of the rank and file members of the California Guard simply accepted a bonus which they should not have been offered. If this is the case, then we believe these debts should be forgiven. For those who have already undertaken the burden to repay them, the Department should return the amount recouped, along with appropriate compensation.”
During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Congress approved the Army to offer the most generous reenlistment bonuses in history for certain military specialties that were in high demand. As a result, tens of thousands of men and women extended their time of service, deploying for second, third or fourth times. An October 22 investigative report by the Los Angeles Times highlighted the stories of several soldiers forced to repay those bonuses and associated benefits, even when they were received through no fault of the soldiers.
Joining Udall, Heinrich, Leahy, Feinstein, and Boxer on the letter were Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
A copy of the letter is available here and the text is below:
The Honorable Ashton B. Carter
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Secretary Carter:
We write with deep concern about recent reports about the Department's recoupment of bonuses and education benefits improperly awarded to Soldiers through no fault of their own during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. We agree that those who dedicate themselves to service deserve our gratitude, respect, and full support, and we appreciate your decision to immediately suspend collection of reimbursement and establish a process to review the matter fully.
Current reports allege that most, if not all, of the rank and file members of the California Guard simply accepted a bonus which they should not have been offered. If this is the case, then we believe these debts should be forgiven. For those who have already undertaken the burden to repay them, the Department should return the amount recouped, along with appropriate compensation. We ask that you provide in a timely manner any request for authorities needed from Congress to make this course of action possible. If, however, you determine that this is not the case, we ask to be included in any report of your findings. Additionally, we ask that you determine whether Soldiers in other states and other components have been impacted.
Finally we agree with you that the men and women who serve our country are our nation's most valuable asset. Please provide a summary of the actions the Department has taken to reemphasize the importance of running a process for rectification that is easy to navigate, as well as any recommendations for changes to authorities to meet that goal should you feel you need them.
Thank you for the prompt attention and focus on our Soldiers that you have shown so far to solve this problem.