Pentagon leaders survey the wreckage of demanding back enlistment bonuses paid to strapped veterans

THE MIL & AERO COMMENTARY, 25 Oct. 2016. When it comes to supporting and respecting America's military veterans, the Pentagon's top administrators usually can be counted on to take a lead role -- especially when it comes to enlistment bonuses. Usually, but not this time.

Oct 25th, 2016
Pentagon leaders survey the wreckage of demanding back enlistment bonuses paid to strapped veterans
Pentagon leaders survey the wreckage of demanding back enlistment bonuses paid to strapped veterans
THE MIL & AERO COMMENTARY, 25 Oct. 2016. When it comes to supporting and respecting America's military veterans, the Pentagon's top administrators usually can be counted on to take a lead role -- especially when it comes to enlistment bonuses.

Usually, but not this time.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is trying to take back millions of dollars in enlistment bonuses and student loans paid a decade ago to swell military ranks at the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Los Angeles Times broke a story last Saturday headlined Thousands of California soldiers forced to repay enlistment bonuses a decade after going to war revealing that California National Guardsmen who were paid $15,000 or more in cash and student loans to join the military now are faced with giving the money back after a Pentagon investigation found that some of the incentives were given improperly.

One of the problems, it seems, is enlistment bonuses were distributed quickly in efforts to get enough warfighters into the field to support continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets," the Times story says.

Some recruiters may have cut corners, others may simply have ignored the rules. Some have done prison time for fraud and false claims. Still, the big losers are the soldiers who signed up in good faith that their incentive bonuses and student loans were above board.

Related: Thousands of California soldiers forced to repay enlistment bonuses a decade after going to war

Now taken to task years after the fact, some of the soldiers who signed up then and have to give the money back now are faced with mortgaging their homes, making painful household budgetary cutbacks, and foregoing dreams that had been years in the making. Some confront monthly payments in excess of $600 to pay back the money they owe.

None of this takes into consideration the costs to these soldiers simply to join to serve in the military. Some lost their families while overseas. Some lost arms and legs, and others suffered physical and psychological wounds just as serious while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those refusing to pay are threatened with fines, ruined credit, and shattered finances -- damage just as serious as many of these service men and women suffered overseas.

That's a fine "thank you for your service" from the Pentagon. The story caused me such outrage and revulsion on first glance that I had to re-read the story a couple of times just to see if it was real and not some kind of a joke.

The outrage is spreading this week. The Daily Mail of London ran a story this morning headlined Congress members slam Pentagon orders to make 10,000 California National Guard soldiers to REPAY their enlistment bonuses after signing up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

California's two senators, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and many others in the California congressional delegation are calling on Congress and the Pentagon to cancel the debt of the solders ordered to return their bonuses.

Related: A U.S. military stuck in the ditch

Pentagon leaders, meanwhile, reportedly are reviewing what to do about resolving the cases of thousands of Army National Guard members who collectively received at least $30 million, only to be told later that the money wasn’t really theirs and must be repaid.

One wonders how the Pentagon's top leadership, and how the current Administration, could have stepped in it like this ... at a time when the DOD is beset with budget cutbacks, a questionable role in the world's future, hideously expensive weapon systems, and increasing political pressure from Russia, China, and others in the world. How could they be so cold, so calculating, so crass ... so insulting to Americans?

The Pentagon needs congressional and public support now, more than ever, as this scandal hits. This is damage that can't be repaired easily.

Let's hope that Pentagon leaders do the right thing for these hastily called-up soldiers whose lives are teetering on the financial brink -- with or without congressional intervention. No matter what happens, unfortunately, it will be too little, too late. This is a test to see if doing the right thing still has value.

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