- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2016

Capitol Hill lawmakers from both sides of the aisle blasted the Pentagon for trying to recoup reenlistment bonus money awarded to National Guardsmen years ago, calling the military’s effort “a bonehead decision” that Congress can correct.

Lawmakers are up in arms over a Defense Department order demanding that National Guard units repay reenlistment bonuses for combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 10,500 members of the Army National Guard in California are required to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses, tied to multiple combat tours in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

More than 32 California Guard members were killed in action during combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of both wars, according to recent reports.

In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Sunday, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine officer, acknowledged that some of the bonuses paid to the Guard units may have been the result of fraud or bureaucratic bumbling.

That said, Mr. Hunter characterized the move to order reimbursement for all bonuses paid to the California Guard units as “a bonehead decision.”

“It is my firm belief that even the simple request of asking soldiers to repay money contingent on reenlistment is disgraceful and insulting,” Mr. Hunter said.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed Mr. Hunter’s sentiment in a separate letter to Mr. Carter.

“We strongly urge the Department of Defense to immediately cease collecting these incentives and bonuses and to work with Congress to ensure the right laws and policies are in place to protect California National Guard soldiers from being forced to pay back bonuses that were received by no fault of their own,” Ms. Sanchez said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said Monday that his office is pursuing “legal basis for administrative action, and legislation action if necessary” to ensure those service members who were correctly paid bonuses for their time on the battlefield are allowed to keep them.

The Pentagon order to repay combat bonuses “is exacting an inexcusable and unfair hardship and wreaking havoc on American patriots who responded to the call,” Mr. Blumenthal added in a statement.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton waded into the congressional uproar Monday, saying she was “appalled” by the Pentagon’s decision.

“These troops deserve our support and our deepest gratitude; they served admirably and upheld their part of the bargain,” Mrs. Clinton said, vowing to pursue legislative action to remedy the situation.

“It is unacceptable to now subject them and their families to undue financial burdens thanks to mismanagement from the California National Guard and rigid bureaucracy on the part of the Pentagon,” she added in a statement.

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