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Congress Reaches Deal To Forgive Bonus Repayments For California National Guard Soldiers

California National Guard / Flickr
 

California National Guard / Flickr

Thousands of California National Guard soldiers could benefit from a deal reached in Congress this week to forgive the repayment of improper reenlistment bonuses.

Former state guardsman and Sacramento resident Mark Hodge told Capital Public Radio on Wednesday that he’s optimistic that the $20,000 in bonuses he was forced to repay will be returned to him. Hodge, who served six years in the state guard, said he also paid more than $5,000 in interest. He’s filed an appeal to recoup the money.

“It would mean a lot to get it back,” said Hodge, who now works as the director of a Sacramento construction company. “I never wanted it to be about money. I didn’t ask for the bonus. It was given to me. It is more a matter of principle. But at the same time recouping the money kind of satisfies all my efforts on all this.”

Repayments and debt forgiveness would not apply to soldiers the Pentagon proves "knew or should have known" the bonuses were improper. Hodge says that still leaves a lot gray area.

“I don’t know the ins and outs of those bonus programs and whether they were allowed or not,” Hodge said. “When we go and sign up and someone says ‘It’s warranted.’ Then we think it’s warranted. We don’t have a moment to stop there and get really litigious about it and try to figure it out.”

In late October, Hodge spoke in detail about the issue on Capital Public Radio's Insight show

The Pentagon told nearly ten thousand state guardsmen to repay bonuses years after they had completed their military service.

Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, who represents the Sacramento area, said in a press release that the deal calls for the Department of Defense to “provide any possible assistance to repair Guardsmen’s credit if necessary.”

“I’m very pleased that a permanent legislative fix is one step closer to President Obama’s desk, but our job isn’t done yet,” Garamendi added. “As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will be keeping close watch to make sure that the Department of Defense lives up to these commitments to our veterans.”

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, who represents northern San Diego County, added in a statement: “This is an important fix that ultimately does the right thing. It moves the burden of proof off the soldiers and onto the Department of Defense to prove that those who received bonuses knew they shouldn’t have, and also helps make sure those who already wrongly repaid their portion are made whole at once.”

The House expects to vote on the deal on Friday. The Senate is scheduled to vote next week.