Enlistment bonuses are the pot of gold in military life. Not everyone gets them. If your solider is offered one, count yourself lucky and take it. Don’t ask any questions. Just take that money and use it to pay off your debts or buy a house.
That’s the opinion among many service members when it comes to an enlistment bonus. It’s free money. Take it or leave it. But it would be smarter to take the enlistment bonus.
That’s why when the Los Angeles Times reported that nearly 10,000 soldiers with the California Guard were ordered to repay their enlistment bonuses, many like myself were thinking “repay? no way.”
Here’s what happened.
During the no-end-in-sight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the mid-2000s, the Defense Department struggled to retain service members and meet recruiting numbers. To combat this shortfall, cash incentives, similar to a sign-on bonus in the civilian sector, were given to service members.
But not every service member. Only soldiers with certain assignments – for example, intelligence, civil affairs and some noncommissioned officer posts – were supposed to get bonuses, according to the Los Angeles Times’ article.
But an investigation, which was triggered by a whistleblower, found that California Guard officials mismanaged their enlistment bonus funds. They gave enlistment bonuses to soldiers who didn’t qualify for them.
This investigation lead to an audit of the enlistment bonuses given to California Guard soldiers. This audit lead to nearly 10,000 soldiers being notified that they needed to pay back their bonuses. They didn’t have a choice. They were ordered to pay back this money.
It wasn’t their fault that this money was mismanaged. They didn’t do anything wrong. Yet, they were ordered to pay back their enlistment bonuses.
Many did. They refinanced their homes or took a second job so that they could pay back the thousands that they now owed the federal government.
Many tried to fight the order to repay. They filed appeals and got nowhere until the Los Angeles Times’ article went viral.
Only then did something happened for these veterans.
Rep. Duncan Hunter called the repayment demand a “boneheaded” move. President Obama ordered the Defense Department to “speed up a review of its attempt to recoup enlistment bonuses from National Guard members and to ensure that the Pentagon doesn’t ‘nickel and dime‘ them,” according to the Washington Times.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to halt its attempts to reclaim these enlistment bonus. He also promised to resolve all the cases by July 1, 2017.
“While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not,” Carter said in a statement.
What happens next?
Do I believe that thousands of soldiers will be allowed to keep their enlistment bonuses that on paper they didn’t earn because of the fraudulent actions of a few?
Honestly I don’t.
Enlistment bonuses are the pot of gold. You are lucky if you find one.
What happens if you stumble upon one by mistake?
You don’t get to keep it.