Lake County News: Congressman Thompson leads House Military Veterans Caucus in calling for forgiveness of National Guard member debts
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, co-chair of the House Military Veterans Caucus, led his bipartisan co-chairs in sending a letter to Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning asking him to grant an exception to the requirement that current and former service members who enlisted in the National Guard between 2006 and 2008 repay unauthorized bonuses.
“It’s wrong to require service members and veterans to repay enlistment bonuses that were issued in error,” said Thompson. “The brave men and women who serve our country in uniform shouldn’t be the ones paying the price for others’ mistakes. Given that the Secretary of the Army has the authority to grant an exception to these repayment requirements, he should do so without further delay. As a veteran myself, I won’t stop fighting until this egregious situation is resolved and these debts are forgiven.”
The Secretary of the Army has the authority under law to grant an exception to repayment requirements if the repayment is determined to be “against equity and good conscience, or would be contrary to the best interest of the United States.”
The letter asks the secretary to grant an exception on these grounds given the length of time since the bonuses were awarded and the misleading tactics used by the California National Guard, and others, during this period.
Thompson, himself a veteran, was appalled to learn that thousands of current and former soldiers in the Army National Guard, including 9,700 in California alone, are being asked to repay enlistment bonuses they were awarded eight to ten years ago.
Upon learning of this unacceptable situation, Thompson immediately took action to help his fellow veterans find relief from this unfair financial burden.
In addition to Thompson, the letter was signed by Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL) and Collin Peterson (D-MN).
The full text of the letter is copied below.
Dear Secretary Fanning,
As co-chairs of the House Military Veterans Caucus, we were appalled to learn that thousands of current and former soldiers in the Army National Guard are being asked to repay bonuses they were awarded when they enlisted eight to ten years ago. We understand that these unauthorized bonuses were particularly common within the California National Guard, which is in the process of attempting to recoup bonuses from 9,700 current and former members of the Guard.
The men and women who bravely signed up to serve their country should not be punished because recruiting and retention officials and their supervisors made mistakes and used misleading language in their contracts. Many individuals chose to enlist because the bonuses they were offered provided much-needed financial relief to their families. Many also went on to serve multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is egregious to ask for these bonuses to be paid back a decade after they were awarded when these funds are unlikely to be readily available.
We understand that Sections 303a and 373 of Title 37 of U.S. Code require the Secretary of the Army to recoup bonuses when service members do not fulfill all the requirements laid out in their enlistment contracts. However, the law also authorizes the Secretary to provide exceptions to these repayment requirements “if the Secretary concerned determines that the imposition of the repayment and termination requirements with regard to a member of the uniformed services would be contrary to the personnel policy or management objective, would be against equity and good conscience, or would be contrary to the best interest of the United States.” Given the well-documented unethical and unlawful practices by the California National Guard during the period in which these soldiers enlisted and the amount of time that has passed since these bonuses were awarded, we believe asking for recoupment is clearly against equity and good conscience and is not in the best interest of the United States. We understand that the California National Guard has set up a task force to help service members file for financial hardship waivers and have inaccuracies corrected through the Board for the Correction of Military Records. However, it is disrespectful to these individuals’ service and sacrifice to subject them to these onerous and bureaucratic processes because of actions that were, again, no fault of their own.
We ask that you use the authority currently available to you to grant an exception to the repayment requirements for the impacted current and former service members that have been identified for bonus recoupment. Thank you for commitment to the men and women who help keep our nation safe.