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The Villages
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Irresponsible to ask of those serving our country to give back overpayments

Rich Nugent
Rich Nugent

Just a week ago, news broke about the Pentagon requiring National Guard members in California to pay back erroneously awarded bonuses. Needless to say, given the years that have passed since the bonuses were paid, there was national outrage. And because of this public pressure, the Department of Defense has since suspended the effort to recoup any of the money. This is good news. It is unfair, unwise and irresponsible to ask of those serving our country to give back overpayments so many years later simply because their employer made an accounting mistake. For many families, that money has long since been spent.
Many of these men and women are struggling to make ends meet in the first place – so to place undue pressure and expectations on them to live in ongoing financial suspense is just about the most thankless federal policy I have ever encountered.
That is why, back in April, I put a fix into the National Defense Authorization Act that would place a firm time-based restriction on the Pentagon’s ability to recoup overpayments to the troops. Known as Section 642, this provision would establish a statute of limitations on the military recovering future overpayments and scrutinize the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s management of existing cases of service member debt.
Currently, there is no statute of limitation and, because of this, there are many cases of the Department of Defense sending first notice of collection more than a decade after the overpayment originally occurred. At some point in a military career, it is fairly common for a service member to be under or over paid in salary or benefits. Service members are limited to 10 years to seek redress on their end, whereas Department of Defense has no such restriction. Section 642 is a necessary first step toward establishing a common standard for correcting accounting errors that applies equally to both the DoD and the individual service member.
This way, honorable service members won’t be punished for Department of Defense’s failure to send notice of accounting errors in a timely manner. The situation with the California Guard (which my colleague Darrell Issa is working to help with) is a perfect example of why we need that statute of limitations.
I served in the Air National Guard, all three of my sons currently serve in the military and even someone on my staff had this very issue happen to him years after he left the Marines. Service members are good, hardworking, honest folks who do what they do out of love for this country and expect nothing more than a fair wage and a decent way of life. This is not too much to ask for those that sacrifice everything so that we may enjoy the very freedoms and liberties that make America the greatest nation in the world.
Our statute of limitations language was passed by the House of Representatives back in May. It’s now up to the Senate to include the House’s solution and I look forward to seeing it in the final version of the NDAA.

Congressman Rich Nugent represents The Villages in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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