- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Defense Department is launching a inquiry into a department-led effort to recoup reenlistment bonus money awarded to National Guardsmen deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, a decision that touched off a firestorm of controversy in Washington and across the country.

Pentagon chief Ashton Carter announced Monday that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work will spearhead the inquiry into why over 10,000 members of the Army National Guard in California are being forced to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses, tied to multiple combat tours in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

All U.S. servicemembers and combat veterans “deserve out gratitude and respect, period,” Mr. Carter said during a joint press conference with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Paris.

The defense secretary and his European counterparts were in France to discuss the ongoing battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State control.

Back in Washington, House Oversight Committee chairman and Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz announced plans to launch his own investigation into the California Guard’s management of the military pay and bonus system.

Specifically, Rep. Chaffetz is requesting information on all Pentagon audits of military bonus overpayments to the California National Guard going back to 2002.

The House panel is also demanding all information on previous department-led efforts to recoup bonuses outside of California, the total amount of bonuses improperly awarded to Guard, Reserve and active duty service members and details on the appeals process available to servicemembers accused of improperly receiving military bonuses.

The information is due to the committee by November, Rep. Chaffetz wrote Tuesday in a letter sent to National Guard Bureau chief Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel and Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, head of the California National Guard.

The letter comes a day after congressional lawmakers lambasted the Pentagon’s efforts to retrieve misallocated bonuses from California Guard units, with California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, himself a former U.S. Marine Corps officer, calling the move “a bonehead decision.”

The Defense Department estimates that more than $20 million in bonuses had been mistakenly handed out to Guard members in California and elsewhere across the United States, according to a recent review of the program by the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

The main Defense Department authority responsible for vetting cases of fraud and errors in military pay, the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, has only limited authority to grant waivers to servicemembers unfairly accused of receiving bonuses they did not earn, Capt. Davis said.

But that office can only make those rulings on a case-by-case basis, and does not have the authority to grant large-scale waivers to entire Guard, Reserve or active duty units, he explained.

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Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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