Defense secretary suspends demand of return of bonuses to California soldiers

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Wednesday he is suspending “all efforts to collect reimbursement” from improperly awarded enlistment bonuses given to some member of the California National Guard after outrage from veterans and their families over attempts to recover the money 10 years after it was disbursed.

“I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical,” Carter said in a statement, adding this suspension will continue until “I am satisfied that our process is working effectively.

“There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people,” Carter added in his statement. “While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not.”

After investigators uncovered rampant fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials trying to meet enlistment targets, the California National Guard has said it was required to try to recuperate the erroneously awarded funds, and does not have the authority to unilaterally waive the debts.