Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson had strong words for the National Guard and the Pentagon after allegations emerged that the DoD is forcing California Guard troops to reimburse the government for enlistment bonuses it paid in error.
"It is beyond the bounds of decency to go after our veterans and their families a decade later," he said in a statement obtained by We Are the Mighty. "These are rounding errors to the Pentagon, but these demands for repayment are ruining lives and causing severe hardships for service members whose sacrifices for the nation can frankly never be adequately be repaid."
Johnson was referring to a Los Angeles Times story that alleges the National Guard is forcing nearly 10,000 guardsmen from California to repay reenlistment bonuses they were awarded 10 years ago.
According to the paper, more than 14,000 California Guardsmen were awarded the reenlistment bonuses as a result of the Army's incentive program to retain soldiers during the height of the Iraq war.
The U.S. government investigated the California Guard reenlistment bonuses and found a majority of the requests had been approved despite the soldiers' not qualifying for the bonus. There has been no suggestion that any of the Guardsmen who received the reenlistment bonuses were aware that they did not qualify for them.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe was the California Guard's incentive manager at the time, and that after the Pentagon discovered the overpayments 6 years ago, Jaffe pleaded guilty to fraud. She was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three other officers associated with the fraud also pled guilty, receiving probation after being forced to pay restitution.
Major Gen. Matthew Beevers, the deputy commander of the California Guard, accused the nearly 10,000 soldiers of owing a debt to the Army.
In his statement to The Los Angeles Times, Beevers claimed that the soldiers were at fault and that the Guard couldn't forgive them. "We just can't do it. We'd be breaking the law," he said, not addressing whether the Guard was breaking the law by reneging on the contracts.
Several of the Guardsmen went on to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom sustained injuries as a result.
Military Times reports that the Pentagon is searching for ways to overcome the issue. "This has the attention of our leadership, and we are looking at this to see what we can do to assist," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Monday.
A host of lawmakers have stepped forward to condemn the Pentagon for harassing the Guardsmen who received the reenlistment bonuses, calling for congressional investigations into the matter. Though as of publication, no presidential candidate other than Johnson had addressed it.
Calling on President Obama and Congress to act immediately on the impacted Guardsmen, Johnson said, "The Pentagon needs a good dose of common sense far more than it needs these dollars, and making our service members pay for the government's incompetence is beyond the pale."