Pentagon pressured by GOP to stop forcing troops to pay back bonuses after forced separation

FIRST ON FOX: Congressional Republicans are demanding the Pentagon answer for severe recruitment and retention issues caused by several policies that the lawmakers say amount to a clear “mistreatment” of service members. Fox News Digital first reported last month that U.S. service members who were fired for refusing to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate are now being forced to pay back their original recruitment bonuses, which they call a “kick in the face.” A group of 23 lawmakers led by Rep. Pat Fallon, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin Thursday to ask about the “mistreatment” of troops being forced to repay their signing bonuses. They wrote that the “blame” for the military’s current recruitment and retention problem, which is detrimental to national security, falls on Austin. “The military is already facing a historic recruiting shortfall and this type of bad policy is only exacerbating the issue,” Fallon, R-Texas, told Fox News Digital. “We must now end the practice of further punishing individuals by requiring them to pay back enlistment bonuses and work to establish a pathway back to service for anyone who has been affected.” SERVICE MEMBERS FORCED TO PAY BACK SIGNING BONUSES AFTER BEING FIRED OVER COVID VAX: ‘KICK IN THE FACE’ In a separate letter sent to Austin Wednesday evening, Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., of the House Committee on Armed Services and Chairman Jim Banks, R-Ind., of the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel sent over a series of question related to the rescission of the COVID vaccine mandate, saying the Pentagon has failed to provide the committee with adequate responses. PENTAGON DITCHES COVID VACCINE MANDATE FOR TROOPS “The Biden administration spent two years dodging my basic questions about their military vaccine mandate and COVID response,” Banks told Fox News Digital. “Now that we have the majority, House Republicans remain committed to holding the Biden DOD accountable for its partisan COVID policy.” The push by the Pentagon to recoup signing bonuses from fired service members comes after President Biden signed the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. That law included a provision, cleared by the House and the Senate, to repeal the administration’s military vaccine mandate. HOW THE PUSH TO END THE MILITARY VAX MANDATE CULMINATED IN THE NDAA Last month, Austin signed a memo that will update the records and remove letters of reprimand from troops whose exemption requests to the vaccine were denied. The Pentagon responded in a previous statement to Fox News Digital saying that despite DOD ending its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, there is “no plan” to stop the recoupment of bonuses. “The military services recouped unearned payment as a matter of standard practice in appropriate cases of members who were separated from their branch of service for refusing a lawful order to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz. “In some circumstances, prior recoupment actions may still be ongoing even though the COVID-19 vaccine mandate has been rescinded. An example is cases where some fraction of the required repayment amount remained unpaid following discharge. There is no plan to stop recoupment of unearned pay,” Dietz continued. “The secretary will respond as appropriate directly and not through the media,” a Pentagon spokesperson replied Thursday.
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