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Congress cannot put soldiers in debt

The Pentagon has decided to stop demanding that soldiers from the California National Guard pay back bonuses that were inadvertently rewarded during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Close to 2,000 soldiers were incorrectly presented with these bonuses, which were part of a technical error made by the Guard. Because of this mistake, the soldiers were asked to return the money they were given.

According to an article from The New York Times, “The botched bonuses stem from the 2000s, when the military was under pressure to meet recruiting goals. During that time, the California Guard sent troops through an assembly-line-style re-enlistment process at mass meetings, where bonuses were approved in minutes.” Toni L. Jaffe, master sergeant of the California National Guard, was responsible for granting these bonuses, and even pleaded guilty in 2012 to authorizing over $15 million in fraudulent claims.

This inevitably led to repercussions. Inspections of Jaffe’s felony revealed that many soldiers mistakenly received these bonuses in cash payment. Guard members started receiving collection notices in 2012, but some declined to pay. Other soldiers were plunged into financial hardship as they struggled to pay off these notices, some of which requested over $1,000 in monthly fees.

The soldier who avoided paying the fines faced the unfair threat of accruing high interest rates. As a result, some soldiers eventually owed more than $20,000 and others near $40,000.

In 2014, the Guard urged Congress to pass a law that would forgive the debt, but Congress hesitated because of the huge amount of money owed. Congress only began to take the issue seriously after seeing an article about it in the Los Angeles Times.

This failure is agitating because fearless men and women signed up voluntarily to serve their nation. They did it of their own accord and this is not the proper way to repay them for their service. In exchange for enlisting as soldiers, they were promised healthcare benefits and perhaps a settlement of student loans after their service.

Yet the Guard abruptly changed this policy. This reversal of standard agenda is the equivalent of a slap to the face for those who served. It is preposterous that the heroes who answered the call for aid after the 9/11 attack are being ignored.

Soldiers who were deployed should be allowed to keep every dollar that they were given in past years. Soldiers in the military receive little compensation for their service when it comes to wages. Soldiers who were wrongfully mandated to refund money in this inopportune circumstance should have the dues rightfully paid back to them. Even if a government official such as Jaffe made pledges that she was not certified to carry out, it is imperative that the government stand by its troops.

While this argument may come off as stereotypical patriotism, defending these soldiers involves a devotion to upholding virtues. The men and women who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were not forced to be in these perilous locations. Their valiant choices put their lives in jeopardy. Some soldiers have even lost their limbs, their sanity or worse. They should not be perceived as the root of the problem because they dedicated themselves to upholding their responsibilities.

It is dishonorable that soldiers who tirelessly gave aid now have the unnecessary burden of compulsory repayment of bonuses that were given to them. They should not have to worry about Jaffe’s errors from over a decade ago.

The government should not mandate them to pay back anything. They volunteered to fight for their country during a period of political strain and were given these bonuses as a reward. Why should they be bound to debt when some of them gave the ultimate sacrifice?

The House Oversight Committee investigated the Guard in order to try to recover the bonuses. The organization commanded the Guard to send in all documents and audits pertaining to the startling $15,000 payment. Just as Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz expressed, the directors who messed up the bonuses should be held liable. The Guard’s actions have additionally been condemned by Congress, Veterans of Foreign Wars and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is good that these groups have identified this issue as a poor decision. The Pentagon should not only stop demanding repayment of the bonuses, but also re-compensate the soldiers. It is appalling that the government would go so far as to ask for a repayment. Soldiers should be allowed to heal from the wreck they faced from the unjust request. Soldiers who were on active duty to aid the nation should not be enduring such corruption.

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