Ret. Army Master Sergeant Susan Haley recounted to CNN's Jake Tapper on Monday the challenges of trying to repay the government, including debt incurred, over $25,000, with interest, given to her during her military career as bonuses.
The Pentagon is demanding veterans pay back bonuses they received for reenlisting, drawing bipartisan outrage.
Ten years after the Pentagon enticed soldiers to reenlist by offering hefty bonuses, officials are demanding thousands of those veterans pay the money back.
Christopher Van Meter is one of the affected veterans in California. He earned a Purple Heart after he was hurled from an armored vehicle in Iraq. By 2007, he had already served 15 years in the Army and was about to retire–until the military encouraged him to reenlist."They entice you with another reenlistment bonus. Those bonuses were … around $15,000," Van Meter told CNN's New Day on Monday."We were in the Iraq and Afghanistan war at the time. And they wanted to keep soldiers in the military."But years later, officials realized Van Meter and thousands of other veterans were not actually eligible for the bonuses they were given.
The Pentagon is asking for the money back from her after 24 years of service.
"Because they wanted me to reenlist—they needed people to go on various deployments and I knew that if I reenlisted I would deploy," she said. "They promised me a bonus because of my specialty because the time I was reenlisting for, I reenlisted for six years … There was one that I wasn't sure about, and I called Master Sergeant Jaffee, and she said everything was fine, and not to worry about it, and now they're asking for it back after 24 years of service."
She added that there was no indication the bonuses were improper in any way.
"How much are they asking for back, and can you afford to pay it back?" Tapper asked.
Haley said that she cannot afford the $650 monthly payments because that constitutes a quarter of her income.
"They're asking for over $25,000, and that's because they've been charging me interest since 2013," she said. "And they were taking it out of my paycheck when I was still in the military, but now that I'm retired, they are asking for $650—that is a quarter of my income—a month."
Tapper was astonished.
"Wait a second," he said. "They've been charging you interest?"
"Yes," Haley said. "And they want me to pay back the taxes that I'm never going to exceed ever again."
Tapper shook his head before asking how long she has been fighting this issue.
"So now the House is investigating these repayments. How long have you been fighting this?" he asked. "And is it comforting or is it kind of frustrating that it took until the Los Angeles Times reported on this and CNN and others started making phone calls that politicians actually now are starting to get aware of this?"
"Well, it's been very frustrating since 2012 when I was notified about this," Haley said. "I've tried and tried to get people interested, and finally the L.A. Times developed an interest in it. The whole thing has been very frustrating to me, and the amount of debt that has been incurred is devastating to our family and I'm sure to so many others."
Tapper asked her if she thought Congress should waive the demand for repayment.
"I think they should," she said.
Haley then told Tapper the Army Recruiting Office told her that she should have kept better records.
"And I was told I didn't keep … good records," Haley said. "I didn't keep—I should have kept better records, is what they said, and I'm asking, what about California? They lost $100 million—"
Tapper cut her off in disbelief.
"Seriously?" he asked. "The idea that you need to keep better records."
"It's very devastating," Haley said. "It's sad. It breaks my heart. I feel betrayed that I gave them my time and now they want my money back. And my family has sacrificed so much, and now we're struggling to pay even our house payments, and we've exhausted our savings account and we're going to have to do something if this continues much longer."