The California National Guard is responding to a growing controversy Tuesday morning.
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A decade after the Pentagon offered bonuses to entice soldiers to enlist, officials now want thousands of veterans to pay back the money.
The California National Guard is asserting some soldiers who received bonuses, committed fraud. Meanwhile, the sergeant who dispensed the bonuses is in prison facing a $15 million fine. We have now learned that five officers were sentenced to shorter jail time and nearly 40 soldiers have been disciplined.
The Guard has issued a new statement about the bonuses for Guard members who didn't initially qualify for them. They say a small number of soldiers committed fraud knowingly, Although the Guard acknowledges many of the guardsmen who got the bonuses acted on good faith, but had bad information.
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"I was completely and totally in shock. I couldn't believe they were doing this to me," said Susan Haley, an Afghanistan War veteran. "They said I received these monies in violation of federal law."
The Guard points out, they notified congress two years ago about the situation and state:
Unfortunately, the California Guard cannot waive debts unilaterally, as that authority rests at the federal level. In 2014, however; California National Guard leadership did reach out to congressional and other federal leaders to encourage alleviation of these debts.
"We think it's a joke. It obviously was not a joke," said retired Army and National Guard Reservist Christopher Van Meter. "It's gut wrenching because you've got to figure out what you've got to do, how you're going to survive."
There is corrective legislation that could be included in the defense authorization bill up for a vote at the end of the year.
"It certainly hurts the credibility going forward if we can't depend on the promises that were made to us when we volunteered to out our life on the line," said Ret. Cmdr. Francis McVey of the Navy.
The Guard says they'll continue to advocate for soldiers to get relief, they say it's their "duty."
The soldier incentive and assistance center was created in 2011 to help with this problem. The Guard claims the SIAC helped 4,000 soldiers retain $37 million in bonus money, but they'll need that federal help to waive paybacks altogether.
California National Guard alleges veterans committed fraud
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