Military Demanding Soldiers Repay Enlistment Bonuses, With Interest

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American Soldiers in Sadr City Siege
Photo Credit: 
By Staff Sgt. Russell Klika, U.S. Army - http://www.dvidshub.net/index.php?script=images/images_gallery.php&action=viewimage&fid=19237 (transfered from en-wikipedia), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4231603

The Los Angeles Times released a substantive investigative report detailing how thousands of California soldiers are being forced to repay enlistment bonuses. Numerous soldiers and their families are being driven into financial hardship, struggling to repay money offered to them by the government and its recruiters. Some of these soldiers suffered physical and mental trauma in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many signed up due to the generous bonuses recruiters were dangling in front of them, seeing them as pathways out of poverty, tough divorces, debts, and other issues.

Now, it turns out, those enlistment bonuses may be creating more poverty, debt, and family problems.
So how did it come to this? During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military was desperate for volunteers. Both wars combined represent the longest period of military action in America's history, and hundreds of thousands of troops were needed for the war efforts. In order to attract and retain soldiers, the military started offering massive cash bonuses and other benefits to new enlistees, and reenlistees.

Problem is, military recruiters never bothered to ensure that all of those receiving bonus benefits were actually eligible for them. Recruiters quickly realized that they could offer massive cash bonuses to just about anyone. Just sign and stamp some paperwork, and people would be given thousands of dollars in benefits, even if they didn't actually qualify for said benefits.

The bonuses were only supposed to be used to attract to high-demand assignments, such as Intelligence. Instead, recruiters offered the bonuses to essentially any soldier willing to sign on the dotted line. For example, soldiers who had previously served a certain number of years were not supposed receive the bonuses, yet in many cases they did.

Mind you, it wasn't the soldiers who were defrauding the government. In most cases these soldiers were not filing false paperwork or misrepresenting what they did. Instead, military recruiters were dangling bonuses in front of them, and offering them official paperwork to sign. Now, the military is tossing the paperwork they put forward aside, demanding that enlistees repay the bonuses, often with interest.

The Story of Sergeant First Class Robert Richards
In some cases, those individuals who are being forced to repay the bonuses were injured during the war. Talking to the Los Angeles Times, Army Sergeant First Class Robert Richmond states that he was struggling with a divorce and was in tough financial straights when a recruiter offered him $15,000 dollars to reenlist. At the time, the money probably seemed like a God-send, and Richmond signed up. He was then sent to Iraq where he suffered back and brain injuries after a road side bomb detonated near his truck.

Despite serving in the Army, and the highly dangerous Special Forces at that, the government is now demanding that he repay $15,000 dollars in “debt” over the signing bonus he was offered. Apparently, he had served for too many years to be eligible for the bonus. Instead of rewarding Richmond for his long career, the military has stated that if he fails to repay the money, he could face debt collection measures, such as the wage garnishment and tax liens.

Yet, Richmond agreed to extend his contract and serve more years precisely because of the bonus offered. If the bonus had not been offered, Richmond may have never ended up in Iraq, where he was subsequently injured. While the government is demanding its money back, they can't give Richmond his health or time back.

In total, roughly 9,700 soldiers in the California State Guard have been ordered to repay “debts”, regardless of whether they did anything wrong, or if they were injured in the war. So far $22 million has been “recovered.” Government audits have found mis-payments in every state, but for right now the biggest push to “recover” funds is in California, which suffered the highest levels of mispayments. Quite possibly, soldiers elsewhere will be receiving “debt notices” in the near future.

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