Now that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has ordered the Defense Department to stop seeking repayment of improperly doled out enlistment bonuses, the California Army National Guard is trying to get the word out to more than 4,000 soldiers who are still on the hook.

Carter on Oct. 26 ordered the Pentagon to suspend collecting millions in bonuses and streamline its process for appealing debts, but according to a letter from the California Guard's adjutant general, soldiers will still have to apply for relief to release their debts.

The state's Soldier Incentives and Assistance Center has been helping guardsmen get their bonus repayments forgiven since 2011, according to Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, and that process is how soldiers can apply to have their debts forgiven or their payments reimbursed.

"Unfortunately, more than 4,000 Soldiers with errors in their incentive packets have not had the same opportunity because the Cal Guard's SIAC has been unable to contact them," he wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to guard members.

Soldiers who have been hit with a collection letter should take this opportunity to file an appeal, via phone at 855-751-4087 or online, Baldwin wrote.

He also implored commanders to reach out to their own troops and as many of their former soldiers as possible to spread the word.

Getting relief

The Defense Department expects its repayment pause and review to last until the end of the year, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

"However, it’s until the secretary of defense has decided that we are in a good place and we are ready to move forward with the waiver process," Maj. Jamie Davis told Army Times on Monday.

From there, the plan is to streamline the relief process to have all of the waivers through by July 1.

Thousands of California guardsmen who signed up or reenlisted between 2004 and 2010 were caught up in a scam in which recruiters offered upwards of $15,000 cash or student loan repayment to new soldiers, many of whom didn't go into jobs that were approved for bonuses, to boost their own numbers.

By 2011, a whistleblower had come forward to expose the scheme, and an audit of more than 14,000 records found 9,700 instances of improper bonuses or loan repayments, according a bonus recoupment fact sheet put together by the California National Guard.

Of those, Davis said, 1,200 were absolutely improperly paid out, while 5,400 had minor paperwork errors that could be fixed, and that is where the backlog has occurred.

Anyone who believes they've been wrongfully sent repayment notices, or anyone who has repaid back a portion or all of their debt, should apply for a waiver, Davis added.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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