WASHINGTON – California National Guard members asked to refund re-enlistment bonuses they signed up for in good faith are expected to be able to keep the money under provisions of a massive defense bill President Barack Obama is expected to sign this week.
For Ventura County, the bill authorizes three new Triton unmanned drones to be built in Palmdale and stationed at the Naval Base Ventura County and fully funds test facilities such as those at NBVC and Edwards Air Force Base. Language in the bill says there will be no base realignment and closure commission in the budget year that began Oct. 1.
The 1,542-page bill also provides a 2.1 percent raise for most personnel, the largest in six years.
The Defense Department sought repayment from about 9,700 California national guardsmen for improper re-enlistment bonuses and other inducements offered by recruiters to extend their service. Some have already repaid the money and members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who is retiring, have said they want those soldiers made whole.
The bill requires the Pentagon to refund repaid bonuses when terms of the re-enlistment were met and stops the so-called “claw back” of bonuses paid as much as 10 years ago. A review of bonus payments and a process for resolving disputes is to be in place by July 30, 2017.
“The language in the NDAA will ensure that the commitments made by Secretary (Ashton) Carter will be honored by the next administration, any money already repaid will be given back and that the Pentagon will help soldiers who face financial hardship fully recover from this ordeal,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said at the time the deal was reached, referring to the National Defense Authorization Act.
Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, who introduced a bill that provided repayment of bonus payments returned to the Defense Department, said after the vote that she was pleased the “outrageous” situation had been resolved. Her office noted that the bill places the burden on the Pentagon to prove a soldier did not accept the bonus in good faith.
Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, noted the bill contains funding for the development of the long-range B-21 bomber and for the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter, which President-elect Donald Trump criticized in a tweet Monday as a program and cost that is “out of control,” erasing billions of dollars of company value in hours.
Knight’s bill to simplify the process for small business to join with larger companies to compete for federal Department of Defense contracts was incorporated in the larger bill.