Pentagon drops Iraq, Afghan enlistment bonus repayments
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon said Tuesday it was dropping its efforts to recoup recruitment bonuses paid to more than 15,000 California National Guard staff a decade ago to get more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan battlefields.
In all, a Pentagon review found that some 17,500 California National Guard soldiers faced potential recoupment of bonuses used as inducements during recruitment drives to overcome a shortage of troops to send to the two conflict zones.
The Defense Department's top personnel official Peter Levine told reporters that the Pentagon would begin notifying soldiers over the next month that the repayments were being waived, with that process due to be completed before July 1.
About 1,000 soldiers will have to present their case and argue over whether their debt should be forgiven.
"Most of the cases in which we'll be recouping will actually be cases in which the soldiers did not fulfill their commitment," Levine said.
"There will be some cases in which we have fraud or evidence of fraud or knowledge or should've known.
"But most of the cases in which we'll be recouping, we will be recouping because the soldier didn't fulfill their commitment."
Levine estimated that the recoupments amounted to as much as $10 million.
The Pentagon sought repayments after audits found the California National Guard had fraudulently overpaid troops in an effort to meet enlistment targets.
The plight of the soldiers, once revealed, triggered widespread public outrage.
Among the group of troops, 1,400 soldiers had been ordered to repay bonuses, while the remaining 16,000 had been flagged for review.
In the end, only about half of the group of 1,400 soldiers are expected to be relieved of their debt, with any paid funds returned to them, according to Levine.
And only a few hundred of the other 16,000 soldiers will have to pay back the money.
The re-enlistments were overseen at the time by master sergeant Toni Jaffe, who has since retired from the military and pleaded guilty in 2011 to approving $15.2 million in fraudulent claims.
The program then came under close scrutiny.