National Guard Veterans Forced To Pay Back Reenlistment Bonuses

The California National Guard is in quite a scandal this week as the Pentagon has begun forcing its active and retired recruits to pay back an enlistment bonus that they signed up for when they reenlisted in the service, avoiding retirement.

News broke this week, as reported by CNN, that men and women who had served in the California National Guard were on the hook for these bonuses paid to them for reenlisting between 2007 and 2009. The main issue at hand is the way the Pentagon has handled its operations in the California National Guard, apparently fraudulently giving soldiers reenlistment bonuses of up to $15,000 if they stayed with the military unit. This was back in 2007 when the military was still fighting two wars and they were in desperate need for soldiers to go to war for the country.

The current mess of collecting bonuses that were once awarded to the soldiers in the California National Guard stems from a 2011 conviction of retired Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe for filing false claims to the Department of Justice in the amount of $15.2 million.

Jaffe plead guilty to the charges and through her confession, the Pentagon is now able to seek compensation from the soldiers affected by the situation who signed contracts that awarded them the money by keeping them enlisted past a date that they were due to retire from active duty.

It appears as though this collection effort by the Pentagon is gong to be a fierce situation, even charging penalties and interest for those who have not given the money back.

The Department of Justice released a statement on this matter, but nowhere in it does it specify that they are attempting to work with their former soldiers of the California National Guard to reach a more fitting conclusion that may not bankrupt them.

“When she pleaded guilty, 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 DOJ statement said. “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.”

For her part, Jaffe spent 30 months in a federal prison following her guilty plea. There were also others involved in the situation that were high ranking officials who got lighter sentences, which included probation and repayment. But in the end, it is the soldiers who were conned into reenlisting with false promises of bonuses that will have to pay back all of the money they collected for their services to their country. In the end, it is those men and women who are ultimately going to have to pay the price, as far as the Pentagon is concerned at this juncture.

One former soldier in the California National Guard, Christopher Van Meter, is living this nightmare in such an intense way that he may not recover financially. He had received notice from the Pentagon that he owes them as much as $46,000. To make matters even worse, he had began paying on the debt to the Pentagon and they had added an additional 1 percent processing fee onto the debt.

Van Meter was a 15-year soldier with the California National Guard when he was supposed to retire back in 2007. But the bonus that he was offered and the debt forgiveness benefit that was added on to that offer made him reenlist with the California National Guard, thus forcing him even further down a rabbit hole that he never knew he was in.

He had described paying more than $1,300 a month to the Pentagon and not being able to afford food or daycare for his young children.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]