A bipartisan wrecking ball encompassing both of California’s U.S. Senators and the state’s entire Congressional delegation is crying foul over the Pentagon’s effort to rescind tens of millions of dollars in National Guard enlistment bonuses.
Breitbart News reported that about 10,000 California Army National Guard members have been ordered to return Recruiting Assistance Program (RAP) bonus payments of $15,000 or more, which soldiers received from corrupt military recruiters, as all-volunteer inducements to serve at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The Pentagon is demanding many California National Guard soldiers repay re-enlistment bonuses, plus charging years of interest charges. According to CNN, some soldiers are being billed $1,300 for restitution payments. As a bitter sign of military collector aggressiveness, soldiers are being hit with federal wage garnishments and tax liens.
But following the Breitbart headline on October 23rd that went viral and generated over 600 comments, Representative John Garamendi [D-Walnut Grove] summed up Congressional bipartisan anger: “I guess it’s always the private that gets beat up.”
Backed by both California’s U.S. Senators and every Congressional member, Garamendi announced plans to submit an amendment to the 2017 Defense Department budget that will prohibit the Pentagon from spending any money to reclaim what is believed to be more than $100 million of improper payments doled out between 2005 and 2010 by corrupt military recruiters to veterans across the nation.
California lawmakers also intend to submit legislation that would prevent the Army from ever repeating such a “claw-back” against future unsuspecting soldiers.
The Obama administration has stated that over 1,200 Army recruiters and 2,000 Recruiter Assistants are suspected of fraudulently granting 106,364 unqualified RAP payments to individuals. More than 200 officers are under investigation for knowledge of illegal RAP payments, including two generals and dozens of colonels.
Director of the Army Lt. Gen. William Grisoli, told Stars & Stripes newspaper that investigators believe that 104 criminal cases of recruiter incentive fraud have been adjudicated, and 16 people have been imprisoned, including five National Guard recruiter assistants who each collected over $1 million in fraudulent bonuses.
The worst offender appears to be California National Guard’s incentives manager Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe. After admitting that, from the fall of 2007 through October 2009, she “routinely submitted false and fictitious claims on behalf of her fellow California National Guard members,” amounting to $15.2, she pled guilty to making “false claims against the United States.” Jaffe served to 30 months in a federal prison. Three California Guard officers also have pleaded guilty to criminal fraud and agreed to pay restitution.
U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy circulated a letter to stop the collection efforts that was signed by 23 of his Californian colleagues. He told Fox News: “It is disgraceful & unacceptable that veterans are being told to pay back their bonuses.” He added, “This is no way to treat those who have fulfilled their commitments to their country. They should be held harmless in light of the fraud that was perpetrated on them by overzealous recruiters.”
The California National Guard spokesman told The Sacramento Bee that they do not have the authority to waive the debts on their own but would “welcome a law that would forgive the improper bonuses.”
California’s two senators and House members from both parties are trying to block the Pentagon from recovering tens of millions of dollars worth of illegal retention and re-enlistment bonuses it awarded to California National Guard soldiers during the height of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
The Sacramento Bee first reported on widespread abuse of incentives in the California National Guard retention office in 2010. Retired Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe in 2012 was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and required to repay $15.2 million after pleading guilty to fraud. Several other officers also later pleaded guilty to misusing the funds.
In most cases, soldiers did not know they were not entitled to the benefits. The Army now is demanding that they repay retention and re-enlistment bonuses that tended to range from $15,000 to $20,000 per soldier, a recovery program that The Bee described in 2013.
The bottom line is this: our veterans should not pay the price for failures in accounting and oversight by the bureaucracy.
— John Garamendi (@RepGaramendi) October 24, 2016
In the past four years, the Army has collected $22 million from soldiers who should not have received retention or re-enlistment bonuses. In many cases, those recovery efforts distressed veterans trying to move on with their lives after wartime deployments.
“We have been vilified, like we have done something wrong and must be punished,” former Staff Sgt. Troy Torres of Galt told The Bee in 2013 when the National Guard demanded that he repay a $20,000 grant for education expenses.