Roughly 10,000 California soldiers and veterans who signed up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan are now being forced to pay back the bonuses they received to convince them to go to war.
Around a decade ago, the military was short on troops, and the National Guard had recruitment quotas to fill. The California Guard turned to giving bonuses –– in many cases amounting to over $15,000 –– to get soldiers to reenlist.
The problem is that certain recruiters reportedly committed fraud to meet their quotas. The generous bonuses were only meant to go to soldiers with high-demand assignments, like intelligence and civil affairs, or noncommissioned officers in certain units.
Instead, a report from the Los Angeles Times says 14,000 soldiers were given their bonuses upfront, and the military then spent years figuring out who was actually eligible.
Veterans argue the only mistake they made was accepting the bonuses, but the military has chosen not to forgive the payments.
The California National Guard says it's helping soldiers and veterans file appeals that can wipe away their debts, but soldiers told the Los Angeles Times the process is tricky and gives no guarantees the debts will go away.
The Pentagon has noted every state committed these kinds of bonus overpayments, but the California Guard was the most financially irresponsible. Aside from the bonuses, California also handed out student loan payments to ineligible soldiers.
So far, the California National Guard has recovered $22 million. Soldiers who don't pay their debts are facing interest, wage garnishments and tax liens.