Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both weighed in on the growing California National Guard bonuses scandal on Monday, calling attempts to recoup hefty payouts from veterans for bureaucratic errors years ago a disgrace and an insult to their service.
In a statement Monday night, Clinton — the Democratic nominee — called for Congress to quickly move to pass whatever legislation is needed to fix the problem.
“These troops deserve our support and our deepest gratitude,” she said. “They served admirably and upheld their part of the bargain. It is unacceptable to now subject them and their families to undue financial burdens thanks to to mismanagement from the California National Guard and rigid bureaucracy on the part of the Pentagon.”
More than 10,000 veterans and guardsmen who received enlistment bonuses in the mid-2000s now face debts of thousands of dollars after California Guard officials determined those payouts were awarded improperly.
A federal investigation three years ago found widespread fraud and mismanagement by state Guard officials, resulting in more than $20 million in improper bonuses and student loan payments.
A Los Angeles Times investigation published last weekend found the bonus recoupment efforts are putting a significant financial strain on veterans who received and spent the money years ago.
Pentagon officials have said individuals involved in the bonus problems can appeal their cases, and they are looking into ways to waive the debts. Lawmakers have called for them to do so, and questioned defense officials assertions that Congress must act to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem.
Clinton said while that confusion is sorted out, “we should assist these families in identifying and applying for relief as well establishing an expedited review process. We simply cannot allow this type of mistreatment of veterans, for any reason.”
At a rally in Florida on Monday, Trump — the Republican presidential nominee — did not offer solutions to the issue but did offer a more searing attack on administration officials involved in the scandal, calling them “stupid people” who disrespect the military.
“The corrupt system can also force brave National Guardsmen from California to return the bonuses they were promised, something that would never happen under a Trump administration,” he told a cheering crowd of supporters. “How about that one? These people, ‘We want your money back that we gave you years ago.’
“This can only happen with these incompetent people we have running (the country) and people with no common sense.”
Congressional leaders are pressuring defense officials to find a solution to the issue before lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on Nov. 14, but have also said they will consider legislative solutions if a better option is not found.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.