GA lawmakers voice disapproval after CA vets asked to return bonuses

GA lawmakers voice disapproval after CA vets asked to return bonuses

(WTVM) - More than $15 million of fraud and false promises are now falling on the shoulders of California National Guard veterans as the federal government demands re-enlistment bonuses back.

According to official documents, peak activity in the Iraq war around 2006 prompted the Pentagon to entice soldiers to reenlist by offering big bonuses.

However, after a more than $15 million scam unraveled in 2011 from California Guard administrators, it's now the veterans who were unaware of the fraud that are being asked to cough up the cash.

"It's gut-wrenching because you have to figure out what you're going to do, and how you're going to survive. I had a young family at the time. and I was expected to pay $46,000 back," veteran Christopher Van Meter told CNN this week.

Georgia lawmakers like Senator Johnny Isakson are taking their disapproval to the Department of Defense.

"This is horrendous. Our National Guard members should not be penalized due to someone else's bureaucratic mismanagement and criminal actions," said Isakson, a former Georgia Guardsman. "Our citizen soldiers make enormous personal sacrifices when they enlist. We recently saw our Guard spring into action during the Hurricane Matthew relief efforts and have watched them courageously fulfill their federal mission in the Global War on Terror since 2001."

With large military communities like Fort Benning across the state, it's a controversial situation that hits close to home.

"Disgust with the situation even arising or the Guard considering in California that they can go back and collect that money from soldiers," said Isakson.

Many of those soldiers served combat deployments and were injured according to recent reports.

"We're in the marketing business when recruiting soldiers. We need to make promises that we keep and never send the signal that we don't," said Isakson.

Isakson also says commanders with Georgia's National Guard are working to assure service members in the Peach State that they won't experience a similar fate.

"This didn't happen in Georgia it happened in California, 3,000 miles away, but the fact is it didn't happen, and caused us to re-double our efforts to make sure mistakes like that don't happen in Georgia," Isakson said.

Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop also issued a statement to News Leader 9, saying he is against veterans being forced to pay back this debt.

"Given the enormous sacrifices made by our veterans and service personnel, it is disheartening to hear of the current situation with the California National Guard. Mistakes that were made a decade ago by National Guard officials should not be shouldered by men and women who answered the call to defend and protect our country. Congress must take immediate steps on a bipartisan basis to resolve this issue, and I have joined a number of my colleagues on a letter to the leadership of the House of Representatives and Department of Defense urging action to halt collections and cancel the repayment requirements for those service members who received these bonuses in good faith."

The California Guard commented on the matter on their Facebook page saying they don't have the authority to waive the debts, as they're coming from a federal program. They then called on Congress to pass legislation to waive the debts.

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