The saga of California National Guard veterans' signing bonuses has unfolded quickly and now, mere days after the story broke, the government will stop seeking repayment from veterans. The New York Times explained the change in policy from the Pentagon which, after a serious outcry from many corners, has declared that it won't pursue incentives handed out due to errors.
Tracking the story
For those unfamiliar with the tale, the news source explained that the criticism began following a Los Angeles Times expose, revealing that some California National Guard members were being pursued and asked to repay signing bonuses. The problem began a decade ago. The Department of Defense handed out bonuses with insufficient oversight during the 2000s and, while a few claims were made improperly, the vast majority of the mistaken pay-outs were simply the results of internal error, with no wrongdoing by the recipients. The question became whether the DOD should try and make guard members repay those bonuses.
"Following the public outcry, the situation has changed."
As The New York Times noted, the collection program caused significant problems for many of the people targeted, with some suffering serious financial repercussions. When asked to forgive some of this debt in 2014, Congress failed to act, citing the high cost of taking the collection off the books. Following the public outcry, however, the situation has changed.
As of Wednesday, the Department of Defense has given in and called on its collectors to stop going after veterans. The DOD statement makes clear that the agency is interested in remaining on good terms with service members, and in this case, that means not pursuing the debts.
"There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people," said Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, according to the Times. "That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word."
"Lawmakers stated the recent investigation showed them how many Guard members were affected."
Lawmakers claim lack of knowledge
The Los Angeles Times reported that in the wake of the DOD announcement, California members of Congress have come forward to explain that they were unaware of the extent of the repayment program. Multiple lawmakers stated that it was the recent investigation that opened their eyes to how many National Guard members were being affected by the collection program.
Representatives who pushed then abandoned debt waiver legislation in 2015 explained that they gave up that effort after assurances that the Pentagon could cancel the debts without their intervention. The National Guard maintains that the 2015 attempt was abandoned due to the fact that money would have to come out of elsewhere in the budget, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The outcome of the debt collection case will no doubt come as a relief to many Guard members who served in the 2000s. The Los Angeles Times added that the California congressional delegation is now going further and hoping the Department of Defense will repay veterans who have already given back signing bonuses that they accepted in good faith. Whatever happens next, it's clear that public opinion will not tolerate vets being financially harmed when they have not willingly made errors.