Breaking: SecDef orders "suspension" to forced repayment of disputed enlistment bonuses

Military families in the California National Guard can breathe a little easier — and maybe take their homes off the market. Or maybe not. Just days after the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon had begun demanding repayment of tens of thousands of dollars from combat veterans over re-enlistment bonuses, stirring outrage and demands for action from Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Ash Carter has issued a stand-down order … for now:

The U.S. Secretary of Defense said Tuesday that he is ordering the Pentagon to suspend its effort to recover the decade-old reenlistment bonuses paid to thousands of California Army National Guard soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. …

Carter did not mention any timeframe that the suspension will expire, but he insisted that it will be in place until he is “satisfied that our process is working effectively.”

This, um, doesn’t help much. All Carter has done is to stop the dunning process while ramping up resources to handle the appeals process. A better question would be why the Pentagon has pursued this at all. These bonuses go back as long as fifteen years ago, far beyond the time when these soldiers and their families could have corrected whatever deficiencies they had in their application process. That’s why Mac Thornberry cited a “statute of limitations” on such actions, and promised to toughen it in the next NDAA when speaking with Larry earlier this week.

More to the point, it comes years after these soldiers and their families extended their service to this nation, based on a promise made at the time. That promise should be kept, especially since the service has already been given. If that means that the Pentagon has to find $30 million to address its own mistakes either in the wording of the program or in the way it administered it at the time, then Carter should focus on doing that, rather than demanding that soldiers pay for the DoD’s mistakes. This “suspension” is nonsense — and if Carter can’t see that, then Congress needs to act to make sure the entire effort is put on ice for good.

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