It’s expected that when buying a used car you might be told a tall tale by your friendly salesman about the vehicle’s history, something like “it was only driven by a little old lady”.  This is designed to close the deal, get your money and move on to the next sale.

Car salesmen did not invent the great American tradition of exaggeration. It has become well entrenched in far too many places where far too many things are sold based on phony claims.

But, when fraud deals with the lives of the men and women who have been serving their country to induce them to go back in harm’s way, enough is enough.

Let me break it down for you.  Several thousand members of the California National Guard were urged to re-enlist because experienced forces were needed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were offered 5 or 10 or even 15 thousand dollars as a special bonus for their re-enlistment. They could use the money for their home or family or other needs as they prepared to ship out.  A contract was established.  These soldiers, in good faith, returned to war and risked their lives for those reenlistment bonuses.  Now they are being asked to pay the money back.

Similar to the recent scandal at Wells Fargo Bank, where the bank employees opened thousands of accounts for customers without their permission, recruiters gave bonuses to our troops without authorization. In both cases the people on the ground, branch employees and reenlistment recruiters were under intense pressure from the people above them to meet unrealistic, if not impossible, goals.  And in both cases, it was the people at the bottom who were punished.  In the case of the recruitment scam, the punishment had been unjustly extended to the soldiers who received the bonuses honestly.

Nobody is claiming that the troops had any idea the bonuses were illegal and had been given out fraudulently.  Nevertheless, 45 auditors were assigned to check the cases of nearly 20,000 members of the National Guard.

Based on the auditors’ findings of unauthorized and overstated payments, millions of dollars have been demanded back by the government from combat heroes, unfairly and without recourse.  Included are many bearing the wounds of war.

These veterans held up their end of the contract.  They returned to the war zone, served their country honorably, and in some cases, killed, were wounded and witnessed their buddies die.

“They took three years of my life and I lost a leg and now they want me to repay money that went to the mortgage of my home,” one Iraq veteran wrote.

One solution is clear and convincing. To our current Presidential candidates, if you are reading this (and you should), since you are promising what you will do in the first 100 days, how about reversing this travesty and releasing any vet with an honorable discharge from repaying any bonus a crooked system promised them in exchange for their service?

We have allowed our country to slip into a daze where it seems OK to repossess a car while its driver is being shot at in defense of our country.  Then when he or she returns, it is OK to ask for their enlistment bonus to be returned.

Shame on any and all who are part of this disgraceful treatment of those who all deserve our respect and support. It is absolutely unacceptable to say “Thank you for your service. Now how did you want to pay this bill for your bonus.”

If you know a veteran who needs help, here’s our Lifeline for Vets number:  888.777.4443

You can be a part of our mission to help Veterans by making a tax-deductible donation!

About the Author

Shad Meshad

As a U.S. Army Medical Service Officer in Vietnam in 1970, Shad Meshad began pioneering treatment techniques for what would later become known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He is the founder of the National Veterans Foundation and founder and co-author of the VA’s Vet Center Program.


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