The federal government has returned $46,000 in re-enlistment bonuses they paid and then demanded back from California National Guardsman Chris Van Meter.
The 42-year-old former Army captain, who now lives in Ripon after moving from Manteca, was caught up in what investigators called “rampant fraud and mismanagement” by the state National Guard struggling to meet enlistment targets, the soldiers were told they would get the bonuses as well as have college debts paid off if they re-enlisted. The problem stemmed from a Guard re-enlistment officer that was eventually convicted of fraud as the bonuses were aimed at soldiers to fill specific assignments.
Van Meter has recovered all his re-up bonuses for active duty in the Iraq conflict from the federal government that he was ordered to repay after receiving them.
The bonuses were issued to him for reenlistments in years prior to his discharge in 2013.
Congressman Jeff Denham worked tirelessly to see that reenlistment bonuses were returned to nearly 18,000 Guard members and their families. Denham, who a member of the House Armed Services Committee, spearheaded the push to let most Guard members keep their bonuses. he also criticized the Pentagon for failing to meet a review of a refund consideration deadline.
Van Meter, who is now a primary grade teacher at a Ceres elementary school, was forced to refinance his home in order to return his bonus money to the Army for his service in Iraq, according to Mike Anderson of Denham’s field office in Salida. The refinance funds covered $25,000 of his reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments the Pentagon argued he should not have received.
Despite a last-minute push, the Pentagon failed to fully meet a final deadline earlier this month set by Congress to review and mostly reverse efforts to recover enlistment bonuses for the majority of the National Guard soldiers and veterans affected.
It has also been noted that Pentagon officials have refused to provide a breakdown of just how many California Guard soldiers had their debts waived and how many are still facing repayment demands for their bonuses that ranged from $15,000 to $80,000.
Thousands of California soldiers have been forced to repay enlistment bonuses some 10 years after going to war. In Van Meter’s case, he spent 21 years and five months in the National Guard serving both in Iraq and Kosovo before he was honorably discharged in December, nearly four years ago, having fought the government for years with the help of Congressman Denham.
Completion of the review was reportedly slowed by the need to conduct a case by case reviews and in some cases to finish lengthy appeals by soldiers still facing demands for the repayment of some or all of their bonuses.
Denham said the government has to prove to him that this repayment demand is no longer an issue for anyone the Pentagon contacted and harassed. He also wanted assurances that the Pentagon helped soldiers contact credit agencies to correct any adverse impact on credit scores from the recoupment efforts.
He said the reimbursement of the soldiers is obviously very important, but it’s equally important to make sure their credit is fixed, Denham said.
By: Glenn Kahl
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