(FOX) – The U.S. Secretary of Defense said Tuesday that he is ordering the Pentagon to suspend its effort to recover the decade-old reenlistment bonuses paid to thousands of California Army National Guard soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
About 2,000 soldiers were recently told they had to repay the cash bonuses that, in some cases, amounted to $15,000 or more.
Ash Carter, the secretary, said in a statement that there is a process in place to assist soldiers who seek relief of such obligations, and in this case, “hundreds” of Guard members have already sought and have been granted relief.
“But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members,” the statement read. “That is unacceptable.”
Carter did not mention any timeframe that the suspension will expire, but he insisted that it will be in place until he is “satisfied that our process is working effectively.”
Faced with a shortage of troops at the height of the two wars, California Guard officials offered bonuses of $15,000 or more for soldiers to reenlist.
A federal investigation in 2010 found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were improperly doled out to California Guard soldiers. About 9,700 current and retired soldiers received notices to repay some or all of their bonuses with more than $22 million recovered so far.
Soldiers said they feel betrayed at having to repay the money.
“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart. “People like me just got screwed.”