New legislation is in the works to help 10,000 California National Guard soldiers from having to repay reenlistment bonuses as they marched off to war.
Capt. Christopher Van Meter from Manteca —a purple heart recipient— left the guard after 21 years and was wounded in Iraq.
Van Meter received $46,000 in reenlistment bonuses and student loan repayments which the Pentagon said he had to pay back within 36 months.
“You’re frustrated and you’re angry literally like a punch to the gut,” Van Meter says. “It was nearly $1,300 a month that we were paying and that was way too much for my young family. We ended up having to refinance our home and we buried it into our mortgage.”
Two bills in Congress, proposed Congressmen Jeff Denham and John Garamendi, would eliminate the debt, block those repayments and reimburse with interest the soldiers who have already paid back.
"We’re excited about the legislation coming forward," Van Meter says. "There’s no guarantee in anything. A lot of people I talked to with say even if this does come back maybe I’m just going to put it back in the bank and hold on to it for a while to make sure they don’t come back and ask for it later."
Van Meter says these bills give him hope but his service was never about the money from the beginning.
“You do it for the love of country," Van Meter says. "So although this happens at the end, you’re not discouraged. You’re committed to the United States and you still want to serve.”
The Department of Defense has already stopped the collection efforts.