- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2016

The Pentagon is under fire from lawmakers for its attempts to force California veterans to repay wartime bonuses issued as long ago as 2006.

Fraud, waste and abuse on the part of the California National Guard — along with a bureaucratic fog of war — allowed nearly 10,000 soldiers to erroneously receive enlistment bonuses. The Pentagon is circling back on combat veterans after years of investigations, which has prompted a class-action lawsuit and condemnation by members of Congress.

“The Department of Defense should waive these repayments, and I will be requesting a full brief from Army and National Guard leadership,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement released Sunday. “The House will investigate these reports to ensure our soldiers are fully honored for their service.”

The California Republican called the Pentagon’s actions “disgraceful.”

“These service members — many of whom were sent into combat — are now being forced to make difficult and painful decisions to pay back thousands of dollars they never knew they owed,” added Democrat Rep. Mark Takano, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

Mr. Takano, who is also a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that solving the problem would require “an act of Congress.”

The newspaper, which broke the story Saturday, said the problem largely stems from the actions of Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, who served as the California Guard’s incentive manager. Master Sgt. Jaffe pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” Iraq veteran Army Capt. Christopher Van Meter, 42, told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. “People like me just got screwed.”

The Pentagon is trying to recoup $21,000 in student loan payments and other bonuses from the veteran.

Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, told the newspaper that the Pentagon’s hands are legally tied.

“We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law,” the officer said.

The California Guard added that it is helping veterans file appeals with the National Guard Bureau and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which can assist with expunging debts.

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