Congress knew the National Guard Bureau was seeking to recoup bonuses from troops who were encouraged to reenlist at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, its chief said Wednesday.
Soldiers say they are now facing interest charges, threats of wage garnishment and tax liens. The issue has sparked an outcry from Congress, with dozens of lawmakers calling on the Pentagon to halt recoupment efforts.
But Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel said Congress had been told years ago about the effort.
"It is true. We did tell Congress that we found this ... I think it was in 2012 that we reported, 'Hey, we found this,'" Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told defense reporters at a breakfast roundtable.
A senior California National Guard official reportedly emailed California lawmakers on Monday, telling them that they were informed of the issue at least two years ago and were even offered suggested legislation to fix the issue.
Lengyel, however, said he was not aware of any request by the National Guard that Congress waive or relieve the debts. He said he would look into the exact communication that took place with Congress.
Lengyel said there were bonuses that should not have been paid in every state, though the problem was predominately in California.
The bonuses were supposed to be restricted to certain jobs but ended up going to a much wider group of people who reenlisted.
Lengyel said the California National Guard discovered in 2008 that some of the bonuses, meant for troops with high-demand skills, were distributed erroneously or without proper paperwork. The California National Guard then conducted an audit of about 13,500 contracts and found that only about 4,000 met the standards for bonuses.
Of the remaining 9,500 cases, Lengyel said in about 5,300 of them, service members did not have the proper documentation to be eligible for the bonus and about 3,200 people could not be found or had left the service.