November 26, 2007 – Several New York veterans have been asked to repay part of their signing bonuses after war injuries prevented them from completing their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sen. Charles Schumer said.
Hundreds of veterans nationwide may have been affected by what the Army characterizes as a mistake, said Schumer (D-N.Y.), who along with lawmakers including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has called for legislation to guarantee that signing bonuses won’t be reduced.
Schumer said his office had received calls from several New York soldiers who complained that the Army had docked their bonuses.
“They’re shocked and there’s a sense of betrayal,” Schumer said at a news conference yesterday in Manhattan. “Everyone knows the Army is a huge agency and sometimes the left arm doesn’t know what the right hand is doing but … this one tops the cake in terms of its unbelievability.”
The issue surfaced earlier this month when a soldier who was partially blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq told media outlets that the Army asked him to repay $2,800 of his $7,500 enlistment bonus because he had only completed about a year of his three-year service.
Former Pfc. Jordan Fox, 21, of Pittsburgh, received the bill in late October and a week later received a notice that he could be charged interest if he didn’t make a payment within 30 days.
Army officials said the incident was a mistake, and told Fox he did not have to repay the bonus. Soldiers who are injured or become ill while on active duty can keep all sign-up bonuses due them, the Army said.
“This is an anomaly,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Rob Cain said yesterday. “It shouldn’t have happened. It doesn’t pass the common sense test.”
The Army is conducting a review to determine how many wounded veterans have been asked to repay part of their bonus or have not received their full bonus.
Cain said wounded veterans whose bonuses have been revoked should call the Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline at 800-984-8523.
“There is a policy in place to protect these soldiers,” he said. “It’s going to be corrected.”
Clinton last week pledged to introduce legislation in the Senate that would require the Department of Defense to pay wounded veterans all remaining bonuses within 30 days of their discharge. U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) has introduced a similar bill in the House.
Yesterday, Schumer called on the Department of Defense to conduct a full internal investigation and audit to determine which soldiers have received the bills and said the military should contact them individually.
Soldiers recruited for active duty may be eligible for a combination of enlistment bonuses of up to $40,000. Army Reserve recruits may be receive bonuses of up to $20,000. Following are examples of specific offers:
Applicants with skills including proficiency in certain foreign languages, X-ray certification or with specialties in animal care may be eligible for a $5,000 bonus.
Individuals who speak certain Middle Eastern languages and enlist as translator aides in the Army Individual Ready Reserve are eligible for a $10,000 bonus.
Applicants who have not served before and enlist for three to six years may receive bonuses for prior civilian education, including $4,000 for a bachelor’s degree.
Wounded veterans whose bonuses have been reduced may call 800-984-8523 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.