The story is as old as time. One person agrees to do something in exchange for some type of compensation. Both parties accept the other side’s position. The agreed-upon action is performed; money exchanges hands and then both parties walk away, with the transaction being completed. Everything seems ok and both parties move on with their lives. Except in our story today, the second party returns some time later, years later in fact, and demands to be reimbursed for what they claim is a “mistaken miscalculation” in the original transaction. And now they demand the original sum be returned, minus whatever the “new calculation” is. Crazy, right? Who does that? If the grocery store misprices something and it is only discovered years later, can they sue a person in court for wrongly priced tomatoes?
The week kicked off with FOX news running a story called-“Pentagon demands return of cash bonuses paid to California soldiers for going to war a decade ago”. That’s right. 10 years ago, during the height of the so-called “surge” in Afghanistan, National Guard recruiters were out in full force, trying to entice anyone that would listen with offers of cash and more cash. And who wouldn’t have been interested? With numbers in the 10’s of thousands of dollars plus other benefits being thrown about, it was certainly interesting to some. And many did sign up. But now, there are some in the government who are attempting to right the so-called “wrong” and have come knocking, expecting to collect their pound of flesh.
NBC news summed up the story by writing — “Roughly a decade ago the military put an offer on the table for thousands of California National Guard soldiers: reenlist for six years and go fight in Iraq and Afghanistan in exchange for bonuses of $15,000 or more. The soldiers who signed on the dotted line back in 2006 and 2007 upheld their end of the bargain, but now the Pentagon says the bonuses were improperly paid out and is demanding the money back.” That’s right. And it gets even better — the government wants interest!
CNN’s take on it was-“For the last three years, retired California National Guard Master Sgt. Bill McLain’s wife, Terese, has repaid a bit of his enlistment bonuses to the Pentagon with a caustic note. Each month, she writes “blood money” on the $100 check — the token amount the McLains pay on the $30,000 debt they deny owing — that she sends to the Pentagon. She writes on the envelope — “Shame on you. Extortion”. But it gets even worse for some.
The New Times ran an article that noted — “After 21 years in the military, three deployments, and a roadside bomb blast that left him bleeding and unconscious, Christopher Van Meter got a letter from the Pentagon saying he improperly received enlistment bonuses and now owed the government $46,000.” He was quoted in that article as saying- “I was having to choose between buying diapers and food for my children and paying this debt. I spent years of my life deployed, missed out on birthdays and deaths in the family, got blown up. It’s hard to hear after that that they say I haven’t fulfilled my contract.”
The New York Times told the story of Mr. Van Meter in further depth. There it was written that — “…. he had given $23,000 in college tuition bills to the National Guard and that it had paid them. Auditors later said the Guard was only authorized to pay $10,000.” So, he was on the hook for the difference! But, we aren’t finished with him yet.
The article continues — “In another instance, Mr. Van Meter was given a $10,000 re-enlistment bonus because his career field — biomedical repair — was facing a shortage of workers. Auditors later decided that he had not fulfilled his contract because a short time later, the National Guard deployed him to Kosovo as a supply manager.” That’s right. The poor guy was doing his own thing, minding his business, when someone higher up decided he wasn’t doing what he should have, and just like that- bada bing, bada boom- he found himself serving overseas! The gentleman in question was quoted as saying-“It’s not like you get a choice in the military. They tell you what to do, and you do it, or you are thrown in jail.”
However, the story for Mr. Van Meter is not over yet. The NYT continues by writing-“During a third enlistment, auditors found, Mr. Van Meter did not fulfill his contract because he became an officer before his enlistment was complete.” That’s right. The guy was promoted. Which is usually a good thing, and is cause for celebration, right? But not in this case. He was penalized and held accountable. He commented on this when he said — “I wasn’t shirking duty, I was stepping up to lead, but to them, it was a violation.” And just like that sign says-“Violators will be prosecuted”.
This bizarre story hasn’t finished yet. It was noted in the NYT that — “Bryan Strother, a sergeant first class, filed a class-action lawsuit in February in Federal District Court in Sacramento that argued that members of the Guard should not have to repay their bonuses. Since filing the case, his lawyer, Daniel C. Willman, has been inundated with calls from members of the Guard in other states. He said-“It’s a national problem. These soldiers operated in good faith. They served their country. And now it is coming back on their backs.”
As the US war machine ramps up in a Russia / Syria frenzy, pundits are beginning to compare it to the media blitz prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Lies, video tape and a call for patriotic duty are rampant. That’s right. Remember that time? Saddam Hussein was portrayed as the devil incarnate and the US not only had the moral duty but was compelled to attack him – to bring peace to the Middle East and to the world. And look at how well that has worked out. US soldiers are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. The region has been torn to shreds. Chaos reigns supreme. And what has been gained? Anything? Anything at all?
So, what do you think dear listeners — “Should the National Guard members repay their debt to the US government?”
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