Ayotte, McCain, Kirk seek halt to reclaiming veterans’ bonuses in future

U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Kirk (R-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) welcomed news that the Pentagon would halt recovery of enlistment bonuses, and they pushed for long-term solutions to prevent the repayments from happening again.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced this week that the Pentagon would abandon efforts to recover improper bonuses paid to nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers who enlisted during the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ayotte, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the decision a step in the right direction. But she added that merely suspending the bonuses did not go far enough.

“It is unacceptable to penalize soldiers, who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and security, for a mistake that is not their fault,” Ayotte said. “I again call on Secretary Carter to unambiguously commit to both the permanent elimination of any expectation of payment from individuals who were paid bonuses and fulfilled their commitment to our country as well as the full reimbursement to any such individual who has already made payments.”

Ayotte said she will monitor the Pentagon’s actions closely on the issue, and offered to work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to write legislation with appropriate statutory language to protect National Guard payments in the future.

Kirk, who also called on the DOD to immediately intervene in bonus claw backs, praised the decision by the Pentagon to abandon its efforts.

“Our veterans and their families make tremendous sacrifices to protect the United States,” Kirk said. “I appreciate Secretary Carter’s suspension of efforts to reclaim bonuses provided to soldiers who continued to serve when our nation needed them the most. Our veterans should not be penalized because corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats did not follow the law.”

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Carter’s announcement a “long-overdue first step” and noted that thousands of service members need assurance that the bonus collection problem will be fixed.

“That is why I will work together with the Department of Defense and my colleagues in the Senate to explore all options available to hold those responsible for this unacceptable situation accountable and to ensure this never happens again,” McCain said.