California National Guard members won't have to pay back bonuses

Defense secretary tells Pentagon to stop trying to recover questionable bonuses

By Sandra Ali - Anchor/Reporter, Derick Hutchinson

Responding to outrage in Congress, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has told the Pentagon to stop trying to recover questionable bonuses paid to National Guard members who, a decade ago, accepted the money for re-enlisting and fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Just days after a published report claimed that thousands of California National Guard members were being pursued by the Pentagon to pay back those bonuses, the payback process has been halted.

"I've ordered the suspension of all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California guard members," Carter said.

Carter's decision followed the Los Angeles Times story that nearly 10,000 guard members were ordered to repay the bonuses in what turned out to be a recruiting scandal.

"We volunteered," Robert D'Andera said. "We signed on the line. We did our duty, and now they're slapping us in the face for it."

D'Andera was among the members in 2006 and 2007 who received the bonus of $15,000 to re-enlist for more combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

An investigation in 2011 determined those bonuses were in error or illegal. Several California guard recruiters pleaded guilty to fraud.

But at the same time, the Pentagon pursued payback from the soldiers, which elected officials on both sides of the aisle now call outrageous.

Now, there's also some concern that the re-enlistment bonus scandal could stretch outside the borders of California.

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