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California veterans shouldn’t be forced to pay back bonuses

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The Pentagon is asking soldiers to repay bonuses that they received as an incentive to reenlist, an effort as dumb as the decision that brought U.S. troops into Iraq in the first place.

Thousands of California National Guard veterans who received bonuses more than 10 years ago now worry that, due to recruiters with enlistment quotas, they might have to pay back money that is probably gone.

Instead of forgiving the debt and focusing on the lies told by the recruiter to meet demands made in wartime, the Pentagon has decided to pursue the money it readily gave to soldiers who are willing to risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I just can’t believe this move by the Pentagon. All of this happened because the California National Guard’s incentive manager, retired Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, filed false claims of $15.2 million on behalf of soldiers she knew were ineligible.

“As the Bonus and Incentive Manager for the California National Guard, defendant Toni Jaffe was entrusted to millions of dollars of Department of Defense funds,” wrote the prosecutors in a sentencing memo. “Defendant completely and utterly abused that trust. During a two-year period, defendant gave out over $15 million of government funds to friends, colleagues and others whom she knew were not entitled to receive that money.”

I don’t understand why the next move is to go after the soldiers, who took this money without knowing that Jaffe was tossing around bonuses to meet enlistment and reenlistment quotas.

The Pentagon is forgiving debt on a case-by-case basis, but that isn’t enough. They should just forgive the debt altogether and instead donate another $15.2 million to an organization that gives money to widows and families of soldiers who died abroad.

The government should go somewhere else if it’s trying to recoup some of the losses from the Iraq War. The U.S. Treasury Department spent $1.7 trillion during the war on equipment, vehicles and everything necessary to support a war overseas for years.

The Department of Defense asked for $585.3 billion in a discretionary budget last year, but now it wants to take back money from soldiers? This is pitiful. Everything about it screams lack of accountability and human compassion.

These two things are what the Army has been associated with in its treatment of veterans.

Why would recouping this money even matter? Veterans who are dealing with life post-military are getting slapped with this debt and have no option but to pay back.

How can we treat our veterans this way? The government needs to realize how wrong it is and forgive this unnecessary debt.

Opinion editor Frank Campos is a media production senior and can be reached at [email protected].

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