In most cases, when an employer pays a signing bonus to attract new workers, that payment is understood to be essentially unrecoverable. But the Pentagon has a different understanding — and it’s ordering the California National Guard to claw back thousands of dollars paid to soldiers who re-enlisted to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And in many cases, an employer would also have a tough time arguing that decade-old lapses in its own oversight should trigger wage garnishments and tax liens against its workers. But again, this is the U.S. military, and its officials say the law requires them to reclaim the overpayments.
Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.
Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.
But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.
We Paid in Blood, Sweat and Tears
The CA Army National Guard offered bonuses to soldiers who had specifically needed job skills, and were willing to sign up for 3-or 6 -year enlistments from 2006 to 2010. After 17,000 soldiers signed the contracts, and in most cases completed the 6-year enlistments, many of which included combat tours, the National Guard sent letters to the soldiers stating they have to pay back the bonuses. The Army National Guard admittedly lacked manpower and oversight of their program and personnel in charge of the program.
Apparently, they discovered several cases of suspected fraud. Mostly the recruiters, who received incentives for recruiting soldiers. They convicted the NCO in charge of the program while higher ranking officers dodged punishment. In one of her defenses, she stated she was ordered to keep the personnel numbers up. In the meantime they did an audit and discovered minor mistakes in nearly 17,000 contracts and suggested they were all written in violation of Federal law.
Rather than investigate each contract and making a decision as to whether or not there was criminal intent with each one, they simply decided they don’t have to honor any of them. As for the soldiers, including myself, we signed the contracts in good faith, believing they were legitimate. Those long term contracts pretty much insured we would be deployed to combat. The purpose of the incentive program was to maintain their numbers so they could deploy troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. They got what they wanted, then once the war in Iraq ended they are taking back the funds.
Not surprisingly, since the rise of ISIS, they are offering a bonus to soldiers with specifically needed Job Skills, once again. We detrimentally relied on those contracts when we deployed. Several of my friends and I were involved in one of the most dangerous missions of our lives during that contract. I was knocked unconscious at one point when a roadside bomb struck my vehicle. Many of my friends were wounded during the conflict and some received purple hearts. I am still being treated for my injuries 10 years later. If it were not for the bravery of those serving on my left and right, I don’t know that any of us would have made it home.
Like many other soldiers, I honorably completed my contract in 2012 and two years later they sent me a letter stating I had to pay the money back. Each contract has a different excuse. They stated the reason I was not eligible for the contract was because I had over 20 years of service at the time. I had originally signed up more than 20 years prior, but had breaks in service and only had 15 credible years of service, not 20. Although at the time, they informed me I was eligible for a bonus, now they are saying I was not. This is the justification they are using for not honoring the contract 10 years later.
I have a legally binding contract promising me the money in return for 6 years of service and I did my part. They can’t give me my time back. Time I could have used in a better paying career. They can’t erase the things I have done or seen, or erase my injuries. How can they just take the money back without a judgment and without my permission?
This should scare every American. With regard to the statute of limitations, they stated there was a code in the Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, better known as (The Farm Bill) that allows them to collect all debts, including those previously ineligible for collection, without limitation. Can the IRS also use this excuse to do tax audits from the day we first started paying taxes and charge us penalties? To add insult to injury, I received a $15,000 bonus for a 6-year term. They pre-taxed the bonus only paying me approximately $11,000 after the tax was taken out. But are now saying I have to pay the entire $15,000 back plus interest. They are demanding I pay them the $4,000 all ready paid to the IRS.
After 90 days they turned my debt over to the Department of the Treasury, who fined me a 28% penalty, including a penalty on the $4,000 paid to the IRS. So now I owe the government almost $20,000, when they were the ones who wrote the contract that they state is not valid. I’m being fined and penalized for their incompetence and lack of oversight and the Treasury Department is now trying garnishing my civilian wages.
The National Guard did create an over burdensome, procedural obstacle course, that requires soldiers to admit they received an erroneous payment, then beg the CA National Guard to forgive them for receiving said payment. It takes a year and a half or longer just to see if we will be forgiven as if we did something wrong. The procedure takes so long because they continue to lack the manpower to review the paperwork they make us fill out, however in the meantime, they have a large enough task force to continue garnishing soldiers wages against their will, without a court order, report unpaid debt, to credit bureaus, and collect from soldier’s tax returns.
One of my fellow soldiers was on another deployment when he received his collection letter, and while he should have been focusing on the battlefield, he had to worry about his family’s well being back home, because they garnished his entire paycheck.
I transferred out of the National Guard in order to avoid their illegal wage garnishments, however, they made it very clear, they will take it from my tax returns. I have heard, that there were at least three soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan, and one committed suicide and their spouses received collection letters. This sickens me beyond belief. Now that I was out of the military and struggling to provide for my wife and two babies, they are demanded I pay them almost $500 a month. They have quite literally ruined my life, with months and months of mental anguish,and sleepless nights. They defamed my character, when they reported the bonus promised to me as unpaid debt to all three credit bureaus, and dropped my otherwise near perfect credit score almost 150 points, making it impossible to get any loans for business I’m working on. The very entity that did not have the proper oversight to follow the proper procedures to get the contracts right in the first place, now lacks the proper oversight to follow the proper procedures in their collection activities, and are dodging legal due process as a result.
My argument is this. If they feel the contracts were not valid 10 years after the fact, they need to either file criminal charges against those who they feel may have committed illegally activity, or they need to file civil charges against those who they feel were not eligible for the bonuses. The CA Army National Guard and Defense Finance and Accounting Service are each just one of thousands of government and state agencies, they are in no way the supreme governmental authority, and lack the legal jurisdiction to act as a judge in any legal dispute, let alone one that they are party to.
Yet they are completely skirting legal due process. Like any other entity, when it comes contract law, should they decide to dispute the contract after it’s been completed, the burden to seek a decision by an independent court or other tribunal falls upon them, and without a judgment from said court or tribunal, they have no legal authority to garnish wages, or conduct any other collection activities. This is not an unpaid dept. This is money that was promised as part of a contractual agreement, which I, and many other soldiers like me honorably fulfilled with blood, sweat, and tears.
We pride ourselves with honor in the military. There is a term called honoring a contract, because it’s not only the legal thing to do, but because it’s an honorable thing to do. In regard to minor dependencies they found years after the contracts were completed during an audit, the CA Army National Guard should honor contracts soldiers signed in good faith and honorably completed. If they choose to be dishonorable and not honor them, they must be made to seek a judgment from a non partisan court or tribunal and immediately cease their illegal collection activities until a judgment is made in their favor. We are just soldiers, who did nothing wrong.
We did what we promised to do, and we are being punished for it. The National Guard Bureau, and Defense Finance and Accounting, conned us in, and are now actually profiteering from their misrepresentation, and lack of oversight. This is despicable.
If you support the ones who sacrificed so much, please stand with us sign this petition and pass it on. We really need America’s support. Thank you. Soldiers.