California State Senate Calls on Congress to Bring Permanent Solution to Repayment of California National Guard Reenlistment Bonuses

Monday, October 31, 2016

SACRAMENTO – The California State Senate today requests, in the strongest possible terms, for Congress to expedite all actions necessary to permanently waive the requirement that our state’s Army National Guard members repay federal financial incentives they received in exchange for wartime reenlistment.

“The burdens of war are heavy and often debilitating for the brave men and women who risk their lives for this country,” said Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León. “Our government is adding to their hardship with a federal clawback of funds that has been financially devastating to current and former members of the California National Guard and their families.  We urge Congress to quickly resolve this crisis in way that honors the courageous Soldiers who have served our country in wartime.”

Chair of the State Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said, “Our service men and women who made the extraordinary commitment to extend their active duty deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan did so with honor. Making these Soldiers pay back their bonuses is a betrayal of trust and an injustice. Congress must right this wrong.”

The linked letter (text below) was sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid.

October 28, 2016

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Majority Leader
United States Senate
317 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                                              

The Honorable Paul Ryan
United States House of Representatives
1233 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Harry Reid
Democratic Leader
United States Senate
522 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510                                              

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader
United States House of Representatives
233 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Democratic Leader Reid, and Democratic Leader Pelosi:

The California State Senate requests, in the strongest possible terms, for Congress to expedite all actions necessary to permanently waive the requirement that our state’s Army National Guard members repay federal financial incentives they received in exchange for wartime reenlistment.

We appreciate that the leadership of the United States Senate and House of Representatives already are beginning to address the matter, and that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has suspended collection of the repayments; however, we respectfully submit that this situation requires a solution that is both permanent and timely.

As you know, from 2005-2010, thousands of members of the Army National Guard in California and elsewhere were granted various financial incentives, including reenlistment bonuses and student loan repayments, to encourage their service reenlistment, primarily to help ensure their continued availability in fighting global terrorism.

We also understand that subsequent audits determined that approximately 6,500 California Soldiers were ineligible and improperly received those financial incentive payments. Although a small number of Guard members took bonus money knowing that they were committing fraud, the overwhelming majority acted on good faith, relying on bad information from recruiters and others in positions of authority. Now, years later, the federal government is demanding that the good-faith Soldiers pay the funds back - in most cases long after the money has been spent.

The federal clawback of the funds is devastating the families of current and former Guard members. In some cases, individuals must repay more than $15,000. The recovery effort ignores that the primary fault lies with the recruiting system's failure to ensure eligibility at the time of the awards and also that the Soldiers fulfilled the associated service obligations, which often included deploying back into combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Californians, we are greatly appreciative of the crucial national security role that the California National Guard plays as part of the United States Department of Defense. However, we also know how vital the Guard's support is to our state during times of natural disaster and unrest. The morale of the California National Guard has been and continues to be tested by its exhausting wartime deployment schedule over the past 15 years, the current downsizing of the federal military force structure, and now also by the retroactive clawback of these incentive awards. We believe it is crucial to protect the morale and financial well-being of our Guard members and their families so that they can continue to serve our state and nation in times of crisis. Waiving the repayment requirement is both a moral obligation and practical necessity.

In addition, we posit that any federal remedy should extend some form of relief or repayment to those Soldiers who have already complied with recoupment orders despite the financial hardship.

Thank you for your leadership in resolving this issue in a manner that is fair and just to those Guard members who received the moneys in the same good faith with which they have served our nation during wartime.


KEVIN DE LEÓN                                                          JIM NIELSEN
President Pro Tempore                                               Chair, Committee on Veterans Affairs
Twenty-Fourth Senate District                                    Fourth Senate District

JEAN FULLER                                                              BEN HUESO
Republican Leader                                                      Vice Chair, Committee on Veterans Affairs
Sixteenth Senate District                                            Fortieth District Senate District

BEN ALLEN                                                                 JOEL ANDERSON
Twenty-Sixth Senate District                                      Thirty-Eighth Senate District

PATRICIA BATES                                                         JIM BEALL
Thirty-Sixth Senate District                                         Fifteenth Senate District

TOM BERRYHILL                                                         MARTY BLOCK
Eighth Senate District                                                 Thirty-Ninth Senate District

ANTHONY CANNELLA                                                TED GAINES
Twelfth Senate District                                               First Senate District

CATHLEEN GALGIANI                                                 STEVEN M. GLAZER
Fifth Senate District                                                    Seventh Senate District

ISADORE HALL, III                                                      LONI HANCOCK
Thirty-Fifth Senate District                                         Ninth Senate District

ED HERNANDEZ                                                         ROBERT M. HERTZBERG
Twenty-Second Senate District                                   Eighteenth Senate District

JERRY HILL                                                                 BOB HUFF
Thirteenth Senate District                                           Twenty-Ninth Senate District

HANNAH-BETH JACKSON                                          RICARDO LARA
Nineteenth Senate District                                         Thirty-Third Senate District

MARK LENO                                                               CONNIE M. LEYVA
Eleventh Senate District                                              Twentieth Senate District

CAROL LIU                                                                 MIKE MCGUIRE
Twenty-Fifth Senate District                                       Second Senate District

TONY MENDOZA                                                        HOLLY MITCHELL
Thirty-Second Senate District                                     Thirtieth Senate District

BILL MONNING                                                           JOHN M. W. MOORLACH
Seventeenth Senate District                                        Thirty-Seventh Senate District

MIKE MORRELL                                                           JANET NGUYEN
Twenty-Third Senate District                                      Thirty-Fourth Senate District

RICHARD PAN                                                             FRAN PAVLEY
Sixth Senate District                                                    Twenty-Seventh Senate District

RICHARD D. ROTH                                                      JEFF STONE
Thirty-First Senate District                                          Twenty-Eighth Senate District

ANDY VIDAK                                                              BOB WIECKOWSKI
Fourteenth Senate District                                          Tenth Senate District

Third Senate District