In 2012, the Department of Defense identified that upwards of 2,000 civilian contractors were being incorrectly paid housing allowances while working for the DOD in Europe. These Living Quarter Allowances (LQA) were negotiated for the contractors are part of their contracts, and the contractors entered the agreements in good faith. It turns out the error was on the part of the government. Instead of identifying the error and recognizing that future contracts would need to be correctly negotiated, the DOD sent notifications of indebtedness to employees, backdated to the time of their hiring.
Many employees found that overnight, they were suddenly indebted to the United States government hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since overseas housing allowances are based on actual costs, the people could not have even saved the extra money, since it would have gone directly to the cost of rent. Therefore, they had only one recourse – appeal the debt.
While recognizing that the issue is not the fault of the employees, federal rules do not permit a blanket waiver of debt. Therefore, each person must individually appeal their debt. In order to appeal, they must first acknowledge the presence of the debt, accepting responsibility for it, and then ask that it be rescinded.
For people that did nothing wrong, that is absolutely unacceptable. It would be similar to driving the speed limit for an entire life, and then being told at the ripe age of 80 that the speeds were wrong, and they should have been driving 10 mph less. Therefore, they now owed years of speeding tickets which they would have to acknowledge, take responsibility for, and individually have to request that they be written off.
Fast forward to this year, and we find that a similar financial problem occurs, but this time in California. Between 20,000 and 30,000 California National Guard soldiers were issued bonuses during the height of the surge into Iraq. After an audit in 2010 identified that the soldiers did not meet the initial criteria established for the bonuses, the retention NCO issued them regardless.
From the perspective of the soldier, they entered the reenlistment contracts in good faith. Never knowing otherwise, they signed up for multiple years of service in a time of war and received the cash payments as a result. Now the government has already attempted to recoup from 2,000 soldiers, and another 8,000 are still pending. Recouping means that the paperwork is sent to the treasury department which adds additional fees and interest to the debt. For many, this means that an initial $15,000 can jump over $25,000.
Many of the soldiers have since left the military, or transitioned out of California. They served their country during a time of war, and risked their lives in the process. People have had to take out second mortgages to pay off their increasing debts, only to see their credit score drop as well. Once again, no blanket waivers have been provided, so every single soldier has had to individually go through the hurdles to request the debt be removed. So far, the process has been so time consuming that many have just paid to have the government off of their back.
There needs to be a better way to resolve financial mistakes and issues. When employees and service members act in good faith, going after them directly is counter-productive. Adding interest simply kicks them when they are already down. Forcing them to acknowledge and take responsibility of the debt without providing blanket waivers or recognition of the governments error is the worst insult available to the very people that serve our country honorably. It is time to change how we approach financial errors and mistakes. It is time to better honor our people.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.