California State Senate Calls on Congress to Bring Permanent Solution to Repayment of California National Guard Reenlistment Bonuses

Monday, October 31, 2016

SACRAMENTO - The California State Senate today requests, in the strongest possible terms, for Congress to expedite all actions necessary to permanently waive the requirement that our state's Army National Guard members repay federal financial incentives they received in exchange for wartime reenlistment.

"The burdens of war are heavy and often debilitating for the brave men and women who risk their lives for this country," said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). "Our government is adding to their hardship with a federal clawback of funds that has been financially devastating to current and former members of the California National Guard and their families.  We urge Congress to quickly resolve this crisis in way that honors the courageous Soldiers who have served our country in wartime."

Chair of the State Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said, "Our service men and women who made the extraordinary commitment to extend their active duty deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan did so with honor. Making these Soldiers pay back their bonuses is a betrayal of trust and an injustice. Congress must right this wrong."

The linked letter (text below) was sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid.


October 28, 2016


The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

317 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510                                              


The Honorable Paul Ryan

Speaker

United States House of Representatives

1233 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515


The Honorable Harry Reid

Democratic Leader

United States Senate

522 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510                                              


The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader

United States House of Representatives

233 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515


Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Democratic Leader Reid, and Democratic Leader Pelosi:


The California State Senate requests, in the strongest possible terms, for Congress to expedite all actions necessary to permanently waive the requirement that our state's Army National Guard members repay federal financial incentives they received in exchange for wartime reenlistment.


We appreciate that the leadership of the United States Senate and House of Representatives already are beginning to address the matter, and that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has suspended collection of the repayments; however, we respectfully submit that this situation requires a solution that is both permanent and timely.


As you know, from 2005-2010, thousands of members of the Army National Guard in California and elsewhere were granted various financial incentives, including reenlistment bonuses and student loan repayments, to encourage their service reenlistment, primarily to help ensure their continued availability in fighting global terrorism.


We also understand that subsequent audits determined that approximately 6,500 California Soldiers were ineligible and improperly received those financial incentive payments. Although a small number of Guard members took bonus money knowing that they were committing fraud, the overwhelming majority acted on good faith, relying on bad information from recruiters and others in positions of authority. Now, years later, the federal government is demanding that the good-faith Soldiers pay the funds back - in most cases long after the money has been spent.


The federal clawback of the funds is devastating the families of current and former Guard members. In some cases, individuals must repay more than $15,000. The recovery effort ignores that the primary fault lies with the recruiting system's failure to ensure eligibility at the time of the awards and also that the Soldiers fulfilled the associated service obligations, which often included deploying back into combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.


As Californians, we are greatly appreciative of the crucial national security role that the California National Guard plays as part of the United States Department of Defense. However, we also know how vital the Guard's support is to our state during times of natural disaster and unrest. The morale of the California National Guard has been and continues to be tested by its exhausting wartime deployment schedule over the past 15 years, the current downsizing of the federal military force structure, and now also by the retroactive clawback of these incentive awards. We believe it is crucial to protect the morale and financial well-being of our Guard members and their families so that they can continue to serve our state and nation in times of crisis. Waiving the repayment requirement is both a moral obligation and practical necessity.


In addition, we posit that any federal remedy should extend some form of relief or repayment to those Soldiers who have already complied with recoupment orders despite the financial hardship.


Thank you for your leadership in resolving this issue in a manner that is fair and just to those Guard members who received the moneys in the same good faith with which they have served our nation during wartime.


Sincerely,


KEVIN DE LEÓN                                    JIM NIELSEN

President Pro Tempore                     Chair, Committee on Veterans Affairs

Twenty-Fourth Senate District          Fourth Senate District


JEAN FULLER                                        BEN HUESO

Republican Leader                           Vice Chair, Committte on Veterans Affairs

Sixteenth Senate District                  Fortieth District Senate District


BEN ALLEN                                            JOEL ANDERSON

Twenty-Sixth Senate District            Thirty-Eighth Senate District


PATRICIA BATES                                  JIM BEALL

Thirty-Sixth Senate District              Fifteenth Senate District


TOM BERRYHILL                                  MARTY BLOCK

Eighth Senate District                     Thirty-Ninth Senate District


ANTHONY CANNELLA                         TED GAINES

Twelfth Senate District                   First Senate District


CATHLEEN GALGIANI                         STEVEN M. GLAZER

Fifth Senate District                       Seventh Senate District


ISADORE HALL, III                             LONI HANCOCK

Thirty-Fifth Senate District              Ninth Senate District


ED HERNANDEZ                                   ROBERT M. HERTZBERG

Twenty-Second Senate District        Eighteenth Senate District


JERRY HILL                                          BOB HUFF

Thirteenth Senate District               Twenty-Ninth Senate District


HANNAH-BETH JACKSON                  RICARDO LARA

Nineteenth Senate District               Thirty-Third Senate District


MARK LENO                                          CONNIE M. LEYVA

Eleventh Senate District                  Twentieth Senate District


CAROL LIU                                            MIKE MCGUIRE

Twenty-Fifth Senate District            Second Senate District


TONY MENDOZA                                  HOLLY MITCHELL

Thirty-Second Senate District          Thirtieth Senate District


BILL MONNING                                    JOHN M. W. MOORLACH

Seventeenth Senate District            Thirty-Seventh Senate District


MIKE MORRELL                                    JANET NGUYEN

Twenty-Third Senate District            Thirty-Fourth Senate District


RICHARD PAN                                      FRAN PAVLEY

Sixth Senate District                       Twenty-Seventh Senate District


RICHARD D. ROTH                               JEFF STONE

Thirty-First Senate District              Twenty-Eighth Senate District


ANDY VIDAK                                        BOB WIECKOWSKI

Fourteenth Senate District              Tenth Senate District


LOIS WOLK

Third Senate District