Brave American patriots who risked their lives during combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan have now been ordered to repay enlistment bonuses.
In one egregious example, the New York Times reports retired Army Captain Christopher Van Meter was ordered to repay $46,000. Apparently three deployments and being “blown up” by a roadside bomb … which left him unconscious and bleeding … didn’t sufficiently fulfill his contract.
These men and women risked their lives to defend our freedom and way of life. We owe them a debt we can never repay. Absent any evidence of fraud on the part of the soldier, how do Washington bureaucrats even dare to send collection letters?
A recent audit found 6,500 California National Guard soldiers received improper or unauthorized enlistment bonuses. A handful of those soldiers were involved in fraud and should be punished. The rest were victims of recruiters who offered fraudulent, improper, or incorrect bonuses. Innocent soldiers are now faced with collection efforts because of bureaucratic mistakes.
This week, I joined National Guard Caucus co-chairs Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) and Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-MS) in writing Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to demand an immediate stop to the collection efforts, request that Secretary Carter explore using existing authority to grant waivers, and alert Congress to what additional authorities are necessary to fix this problem.
On Wednesday, Secretary Carter issued orders to suspend collection efforts. We appreciate Secretary Carter taking this important first step, and urge him to now work with Congress to develop an appropriate solution and determine if this impacts more than just the California National Guard.
Congress was already working on this issue before it made national headlines. In May, I helped pass the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes specific provisions to set a statute of limitations on the Pentagon’s ability to recover future overpayments. Congress must act swiftly to complete the necessary legislation to provide a permanent fix.
Better service for veterans
As Americans, we have the privilege of serving the brave veterans who defended our freedom. In addition to the Department of Veterans Affairs, many state and local governments, non-profits, and private companies provide valuable benefits for veterans.
Unfortunately, many veterans miss out on those benefits due to a lack of coordination between the agencies, or simple confusion trying to sort through the options during a crisis.
That’s why I introduced the Veterans Benefits Network Act to fund regional technology networks which provide veterans with “one-stop shopping.” My legislation would help create an active database connecting all the veterans service organizations in the region to expedite referrals and scheduling. When a veteran visits one agency, staff would be able to quickly determine what other benefits and services the veteran is eligible for and connect him or her with those resources.
Funding for the Veterans Benefits Network will be voted on in December as part of the federal government’s FY 2017 omnibus spending bill. My office recently hosted a Capitol Hill briefing to help other Members of Congress better understand this opportunity and encourage their support for the final legislation.
Honored to serve you
If you are a local veteran who needs assistance with VA red tape or Defense Department bureaucracy, please call my Charlotte office at 704-362-1060. On average, we are assisting 500 local veterans at any one time. You served our country, and now we are honored to serve you.
My office can also assist local residents with issues involving Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, passports, immigration/visa issues, small business issues, and almost any federal red tape. Please call us at 704-362-1060.
Congressman Robert Pittenger (NC-09) is chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, and serves on the House Financial Services Committee, with a special focus on supporting small businesses, community banks, and credit unions.