The outrage over war veterans being forced to re-pay enlistment bonuses is likely to hit Massachusetts.
necn Investigates has confirmed that one senior guard official is warning the bonus scandal will be a problem in every state.
Meanwhile, National Guard bureaus across the country - including Massachusetts - are searching thousands of names in databases. While the Defense Secretary Ash Carter stepped in, ordering the National Guard in California to stop forcing soldiers to repay their bonuses, it’s putting all National Guard soldiers under the microscope.
At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the National Guard offered hefty bonuses, some $15,000 or more, to Guardsmen willing to re-enlist.
Thousands who had gone to war stepped up. Then 10 years later, they were ordered to pay them back after an audit showed that false claims were filed by a guard manager. Amid outrage this week, Carter put a stop to those forced re-payments.
The National Guard Bureau in Washington confirms to necn Investigates that all states have been ordered to audit their soldiers. Because it involves millions in federal dollars, the findings will be forwarded to the Department of Defense.
Now new information shows Congress knew about the bonus repayment issue two years ago when the California National Guard told members of the state's federal delegation, but no action was taken.
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The California Guard confirmed to necn Investigates that a senior official Monday sent a letter to the California delegation sounding the alarm saying, “This is a national issue and affects all states.”
The official said improper bonuses had been paid to National Guard members in every state. That puts more soldiers at risk of having to pay off huge debts.
Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton is a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq. He also sits on the House Armed Services Committee that may eventually investigate the matter.
“The truth is that this one case has brought to light a bigger issue," Moulton told necn Investigates. "The DOD and the VA have a history of using coercive collections tactics against our troops and our veterans to recoup overpayments that are the fault of these agencies - not the troops themselves. Putting the blame on our troops for the DOD’s clerical mistakes hurts the credit and well-being of the volunteers who wear the uniform of the United States military.
Congress is already threatening to intervene if soldiers are ordered to pay back the bonuses for re-enlisting.
The National Guard Bureau and Department of Defense both tell necn Investigates that it will be early next week before they finish the audit of all states.
If you are a member of the Massachusetts National Guard and have been notified or are concerned you need to repay your bonus, we want to hear from you. Contact our investigator Karen Hensel by email at Karen.Hensel@nbcuni.com or call 617-630-4212.