Following October revelations in the Los Angeles Times the Pentagon was seeking to recover payments to 17,000 California National Guard members were mistakenly awarded bonuses a decade ago, a Defense Department official told a congressional committee it will pursue less than 2,000 repayments.
“It is my hope that by the end of the year, we will have something between 1,000 and 2,000 cases total out of the universe of 17,000 that are subject to review,” said Peter Levine, acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Paid out as an incentive a decade ago to boost enlistments and fill depleted ranks in Afghanistan and Iraq, bonuses were erroneously paid to approximately 9,700 California Guardsman. Many soldiers reported being hounded by debt collectors seeking repayment.
An internal Pentagon audit later discovered the bonuses were paid as the result of fraud, missing paperwork and bureaucratic error.
Testifying on behalf of the soldiers, Adjutant General for the California National Guard Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin told members of the House Armed Services Committee “lack of oversight, training and manpower” accounted for the errors.
Baldwin later said the California National Guard set up a help center to assist veterans with concerns, but sequestration overcame his efforts.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has since suspended the attempts to reclaim the bonuses and worked with Congress to include protection for the Guardsmen in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which stipulates the Pentagon must find wrongdoing before demanding repayment of a military bonus.