About 10,000 California Army National Guard members have been ordered to return enlistment bonuses of $15,000 or more they accepted from military recruiters that committed fraud at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Because the U.S. military had the Selective Service draft during the unpopular Vietnam War, the Army could pay below poverty level wages and still feed infantry units with huge numbers of teenage boys. The effort to enforce the Selective Service Registration law was abandoned in 1986 in favor of an all-volunteer Armed Forces.
The U.S. military has sustained the longest continuous era of ground combat in American history by offering more competitive pay and benefits. But with the growing technical sophistication of modern missions, the military has also been offering enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses to fill key military occupation specialties (MOS).
To support deployments at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, a temporary Recruiting Assistance Program was instituted in 2005 to offer bigger bonuses for to encourage enlistment and re-enlistments for difficult to fill specialties including noncommissioned officers, intelligence experts, and civil affairs administrators.
National Guard also started paying recruiting assistants (RAs) cash bonuses of up to $2,000 for qualifying RAP enlistments. The RAs received the first $1,000 when the qualifying recruit enlisted and the balance when the soldier shipped off for training.
Obama Administration audits in 2010 determined there was a problem with RAP “improper payments.” A task force formed with investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Major Fraud Section, Army Criminal Investigative Command, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Services found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were extended for Guard enlistees that did not qualify for RAP cash.
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.
The Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau has acknowledged that the RAP “bonus overpayments” occurred in every state National Guard unit. But California as the nation’s largest National Guard contingent with 17,000 active members, appears to have made the largest number of unqualified RAP payments.
According to California Guard audit official Colonel Michael S. Piazzoni, from fall of 2007 and to about October 2009, “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”
Director of the Army Lt. Gen. William Grisoli told Stars & Stripes newspaper, investigators believe that up to $100 million in taxpayer money was lost to fraudulent RAP payments. About 104 criminal cases of recruiter incentive fraud have been adjudicated and 16 people have been imprisoned, including five National Guard recruiter assistants that each collected over $1 million in fraudulent bonuses.
California National Guard’s incentives manager Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, pleaded guilty to the biggest recruitment fraud case in 2011, involving $15.2 million in “false claims against the United States.” She was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and 3 Guard officers also pled guilty to criminal fraud. They all agreed to pay restitution.
With Lt. Gen. William Grisoli stated that the Army intends to recoup as much RAP taxpayer money as possible from the unsuspecting soldiers that did not know they were receiving unqualified RAP payments.
Nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers, many veterans of multiple combat tours, have now been ordered to repay their re-enlistment bonuses and interest charges. As a sign of the military collector aggressiveness, there are increasing reports of California National Guard soldiers being hit with wage garnishments and tax liens.