Recall of enlistment bonuses issued to CA National Guard soldiers suspended

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Audrey McNamara/Staff

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On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it will suspend the recall of enlistment bonuses erroneously issued to California National Guard soldiers after the policy prompted criticism from veterans statewide, including those attending UC Berkeley.

The Pentagon has sought to recall payments made to nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq, the LA Times reported Sunday. Most of these bonuses were made from 2006 to 2008 by California National Guard recruiters who were under pressure to expand enlistment during war time, according to the LA Times article.

In 2010, several California National Guard officials pleaded guilty to making fraudulent payments to military recruits, the article said.

“I don’t think (recoupment) is justified. It’s complete nonsense,” said veteran and fifth-year campus student John Wong, who was unaffected by the collection efforts. “How could you penalize people who were lured into a trap?”

According to U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Laura Ochoa, the majority of overpayments occurred in California, although other states were affected as well.

Ron Williams, campus director of re-entry student and veteran services, said in an email that he was unaware of any UC Berkeley veterans who were directly impacted by the collection efforts, but was pleased with the U.S. Department of Defense’s recent announcement to halt the recall.

Hundreds of affected California service members sought and were granted relief from paying back these bonuses, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in an announcement. He added in the statement that the overall process, however, is slow-moving and difficult for these veterans.

Ochoa said retired master sergeant Toni Jaffe is responsible for some erroneous distributions of funds. She pleaded guilty in 2011 to submitting false claims to pay bonuses to California National Guard members whom she knew were ineligible to receive them. According to a FBI report, Jaffe was responsible for doling out $15.2 million in illegal incentives. Jaffe was later ordered by the court to repay the $15.2 million in addition to serving time in prison.

Earl Mehraban, a veteran and UC Berkeley senior student, said he believed that the mispayments arose from oversight issues.

“I think it’s just people in the authorities taking the easy way…to get more people,” Mehraban said. “I think that they knew they couldn’t give out that many bonuses, but they decided to give out the bonuses for the short-term gain of getting more people.”

Carter announced Wednesday that a team of senior U.S. Department of Defense officials is working to establish an efficient process to ensure the resolution of mispayment cases by January 2017.

“This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members,” Carter said in the announcement. “Too many cases have languished without action.”

Contact Charlene Jin and Revati Thatte at [email protected].