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"Wounded Soldier: Military Wants Part Of [Enlistment] Bonus Back":

Yow! Here's the story. My quick research seems to confirm that the military does have this sort of policy, on the theory that the bonus is an advance payment for a full term of service and the soldier isn't entitled to keep it unless he completes the full term -- even when the failure to complete the term is a result of a combat wound.

I should note, since this is a legal blog, that the military may well have a right under the terms of the enlistment contract to take back the bonus. It just strikes me as a scuzzy thing to do. Thanks to Victor Steinbok for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Enlistment Bonuses for Soldiers Who Are Discharged Because of Combat Injuries:
  2. "Wounded Soldier: Military Wants Part Of [Enlistment] Bonus Back":
FantasiaWHT:
DEFINITELY scummy.

Sad sad world we live in where football players can keep their signing bonuses if they get hurt, but our soldiers can't. As a taxpayer, I have no problem with the government spending my money on signing bonuses for soldiers.
11.20.2007 1:39pm
Malvolio:
What if the soldier is killed outright? Do they try to recover the bonus from his estate? I'm guessing not, and if not, under what theory do they do so in this case.

If they do attempt to get their money back from the deceased, I give them props for consistency, if not for taste.
11.20.2007 1:41pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
Someone was not thinking about the PR issues when they came up with that policy.
11.20.2007 1:43pm
wm13:
Man o man, I can't wait to see what the people who came up with this policy do when they are put in charge of our national health care system.
11.20.2007 1:48pm
PersonFromPorlock:
It's a famous wry joke in the military that "nothing is too good for the troops."

It's been that way for a long time, too. See Kipling.
11.20.2007 1:53pm
Swede:
As an Army officer I can only imagine that this policy was written before the recent wars. That said, any policy can look good on paper until an unintended (I'm assuming) consequence like this comes up. Under "normal" circumstances, such as a Soldier not completing the terms of his contract for reasons such as being awol, failing a school, disciplinary issues etc, the policy appears to make sense. However, under the light of special circumstances such as being wounded or discharged for reasons related to one's service, it looks like a glaringly obvious correction needs to take place.
11.20.2007 1:59pm
alias:
the military may well have a right under the terms of the enlistment contract to take back the bonus. It just strikes me as a scuzzy thing to do

Yeah. Wow. I hope the story is inaccurate.
11.20.2007 2:02pm
r78:
It's time for these coddled soldiers to start bearing some of the burden that we here in the homeland have been carrying since 9/11.

Don't they realize that we are at war?
11.20.2007 2:17pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Scummy is too good an adjective. Positively insane. Heads should roll over this, and if they don't this will be something that is ultimately Bush's fault for real.

Gary
11.20.2007 2:19pm
bittern (mail):
Every morning about seven o'clock
There were twenty tarriers drilling at the rock
The boss comes along and he says, "Keep still
And bear down heavy on the cast iron drill."

Chorus
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
Drill, ye tarriers, drill
For it's work all day for the sugar in you tay
Down beyond the railway
And drill, ye tarriers, drill
And blast, and fire.

The boss was a fine man down to the ground
And he married a lady six feet 'round
She baked good bread and she baked it well
But she baked it harder than the hobs of Hell.

The foreman's name was John McCann
By God, he was a blamed mean man
Last week a premature blast went off
And a mile in the air went big Jim Goff.

And when next payday came around
Jim Goff a dollar short was found
When he asked, "What for?" came this reply
"You were docked for the time you were up in the sky."

Drill Ye Tarriers Drill
11.20.2007 2:25pm
Raven (www):
I wonder if this policy was intended to keep people from signing up, having the most minor "accident" possible to get discharged, and buying a big screen TV...
11.20.2007 2:36pm
shecky (mail):

Man o man, I can't wait to see what the people who came up with this policy do when they are put in charge of our national health care system.



If they're good enough to run the War on terror, they're good enough to run national health care.

This story provides more evidence to back up the assessment I made decades ago. The military is a pretty crappy job opportunity.
11.20.2007 2:38pm
Cato:
Nobody, no matter what his political leanings, likes this rule. I think our politicians should use this as a point of consensus and change the policy publicly and use this as a point of departure for changing other policies universally disliked.
11.20.2007 2:39pm
Armen (mail) (www):
Altmire, D-PA, has a bill in the House.
11.20.2007 2:47pm
tvk:
Raven, I think everyone can agree that this policy (without an exception for those wounded or killed in action) is outrageous. Even if there is the moral hazard problem that you suggest, we would probably prefer to live with the moral hazard. In any event, the moral hazard problem is probably very small here--an "accident" that is sufficiently disabling to get you discharged is likely not worth $3000 to any sane person. Would anyone poke out their own eye for $3000? Lose an arm?
11.20.2007 2:52pm
Russ (mail):
I'm a soldier and officer, and I will NOT defend this policy. It is disgusting and repulsive, and our soldiers deserve better.

Sounds very much like it was written in some back office at the Pentagon by a REMF who has never seen and never will see combat.

I cannot describe how angry I am over this.
11.20.2007 2:55pm
JimT (mail):
Several years ago the husband of a friend of ours re-upped as a USAF pilot, with a bonus of several thousand dollars. Shortly after signing up, but before his new term began, he was killed in a training accident. The Air Force held that he hadn't earned any of the bonus, and didn't want to pay it. His widow pointed out that he would have been processing out instead of flying if he hadn't signed up. It took a special act of congress to make them pay her.
11.20.2007 2:56pm
KeithK (mail):
I bet Swede has it right. The folks in the Pentagon are acting like good bureaucrats everywhere and enforcing the rule as it's written without considering context. The appropriate response is for Congress or the SecDef or someone who has the necessary authority to add an exception that covers combat wounds and maybe training injuries as well.
11.20.2007 2:56pm
Casual Pirates Follower:
It's been bandied about* that this sort of thing is common, and being a cynic I had little trouble believing it ... but this is the first report I've seen with a name attached.

*From sources that are probably too leftist/liberal for most readers here. Still, I guess I'm surprised that so many people here seem surprised.
11.20.2007 3:01pm
Happyshooter:
Kipling was wrong, they still screw Tommy even when the Troopers on the tide.
11.20.2007 3:05pm
Pol Mordreth (mail):
The policy isn't being well reported. In the Navy, the implementation of this policy is that they will automatically seek to collect if you do not finish your tour unless your commanding officer requests otherwise in your discharge memoranda. IOW, unless your skipper tells them otherwise, DFAS assumes that there was no service related reason for your early discharge. DFAS (payroll, basically) doesn't see your record, just the discharge memoranda and DD-214. All that will say in this soldiers case is "medically discharged". The bean counters don't know if he was wounded, or if he broke something playing ball. The CO of the unit is responsible to prevent this. If they say so, DFAS won't come after the bonus. The exception is already there.

R/
Pol
11.20.2007 3:17pm
PLR:
I don't see why Congressional action is necessary for the Pentagon to waive its own contractual rights, or to change the bonus provision in new contracts. It would seem imperative to do so considering how badly the Army is doing on recruitment.
11.20.2007 4:18pm
gab:
"Scuzzy?" Is that a term they teach in law school?
11.20.2007 4:56pm
Adam J:
WM13- "Man o man, I can't wait to see what the people who came up with this policy do when they are put in charge of our national health care system." I'm confused... the administration who came up with this policy is in charge of our national health care system, or lack there of.
11.20.2007 5:24pm
kehrsam (mail):

Would anyone poke out their own eye for $3000? Lose an arm?


Um... which one?
11.20.2007 5:56pm
CatCube:
PLR--

When you're dealing with government funds, You Do Not Spend Money Without Authorization From Congress. If the law under which the military gives out bonuses specified that you have to finish your term of service and doesn't make exceptions for wounds, then the Army can't just decide on its own to "waive its own contractual rights". I don't know what the legal situation is, but I'd suspect that Pol is correct; someone forgot to check a block somewhere, so DFAS pulled his bonus. In a bureaucracy, money gets spent based on the paperwork filed--people go to jail if they don't.
11.20.2007 6:20pm
Public_Defender (mail):
The CO of the unit is responsible to prevent this. If they say so, DFAS won't come after the bonus. The exception is already there.

Perhaps the solution is to reverse the default--don't demand a bonus refund unless the CO says so.
11.20.2007 6:35pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
It appears that this serviceman's pay records did not include the normal form from his commanding officer that he had been discharged for a service-connected disability prior to completing his enlistment. I suspect this problem rarely happens and can be corrected by getting that form into his records.

It's still a self-inflicted wound for the military though. Its normal peace-time policy of always seeking reimbursement of enlistment bonuses from early dischargees, absent evidence to the contrary (i..e., good cause appearing in the records), was not changed to the converse of a wartime policy of assuming that early discharges are due to service-connected disability absent evidence to the contrary.

Basically the Army's bureaucracy won't admit there is a war on any more than the Democrats do. OTOH, this Army policy has existed a lot longer than the Democratic Party has. The Army's pencil-pushers have assumed since about 1812 that war is something to be ignored as an unnecessary inconvenience for them.
11.20.2007 6:41pm
Joel:
Altmire's bill, HR 3793, requires that the retirement or separation be caused by an injury for which the servicemember received the Purple Heart or, as a direct result of armed conflict, while engaged in hazardous service, in the performance of duty under conditions simulating war, or through an instrumentality of war.

IOW, I don't think we'll need to worry about people poking their own eye out.
11.20.2007 6:46pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
In the old days, among the steel erectors, if you fell off a building, you got a full day's pay, even if you fell off early in the morning.

Now that the ironworkers are unionized, they do better.

This story, and the responses here, seem to me to present some problems for Libertarians.
11.20.2007 6:51pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Seems to be a one-off based on incomplete records, more or less easily fixed.
Didn't stop it from being a real occasion for outrage, though.
11.20.2007 7:50pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
gab: "What we know as men we are not required to forget as [lawyers]."
11.20.2007 7:57pm
bittern (mail):
Richard Aubrey:

Seems to be a one-off

Richard Aubrey, did you want to link to any evidence that it was a one-off, or is that just your overall take? What is your style?
11.20.2007 9:11pm
finec:
Eugene --

Is that a quote from someone? From whom? I can't find it with google.
11.20.2007 9:34pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
No, Bittern.

Was reading a bunch of blogs and found the report. Don't recall which, don't want to bother looking.

It will either be correct or not in the morning, or sometime.

In the meantime, have what fun you want with my non-link.
11.20.2007 10:20pm
Anonymous Coward #39841:
Finec,
Perhaps this is the quote: "... there comes a point where this Court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men." - Felix Frankfurter, Watts v. Indiana, 338 U.S. 49 (1949)
11.20.2007 10:56pm
Teaeopy (mail):
Do the policy-making military authorities realize that they have created a potential disincentive to engaging in military conduct that increases risk, even when that conduct is ordered by the chain of command or essential to a mission?

A soldier could, say, find himself or herself torn between protecting a bonus much needed by the family or protecting a mission and fellow soldiers.
11.20.2007 11:37pm
Public_Defender (mail):
A soldier could, say, find himself or herself torn between protecting a bonus much needed by the family or protecting a mission and fellow soldiers.

I should be cautious about speculating on the psychology of combat, but I think this is as likely as a soldier cutting off a limb to get out early. I really can't imagine a soldier putting his comrades at risk to protect his own enlistment bonus.

As I said above, it appears that the simple solution is to change the default--the soldier (or sailor or airman) gets to keep the bonus unless the CO says that discharge was not combat-related.

I'd go a step further. Someone injured because of a training accident also should not have to pay back the bonus. We expect our military to engage in dangerous training, and we should not punish servicemen who get injured in the process.
11.21.2007 5:06am
Bill Sommerfeld (www):
A general responsible for the care of wounded soldiers was on the Fox News morning show today. He said that the request for a refund of the signing bonus in this and many other cases was a mistake and provided a toll-free number for soldiers to call to get things straightened out.
11.21.2007 8:22am
Bill Sommerfeld (www):
The phone number for soldiers to call was just re-run: 800-984-8523.
11.21.2007 8:56am
Nemo Ignotus (mail):
People will understand this story better if they realize that the military enlistment contract, especially if it involves bonuses, is very, very one-sided. Congress can change the terms of your contract at a whim, and they've delegated a lot of ability to change those terms to the Executive branch.

Are there any other contracts where one part can change the terms whenever they feel like it?
11.21.2007 9:37am
davod (mail):
The Congress, as usual, seeks to complicate matters. What does service in a war zine have to do with anything.

If the discharge was due to a service related injury then surely the Army should not seek to collect.
11.21.2007 10:29am
davod (mail):
The Congress, as usual, seeks to complicate matters. What does service in a war zine have to do with anything.

If the discharge was due to a service related injury then surely the Army should not seek to collect.
11.21.2007 10:29am
Eli Rabett (www):
There was a front page article in the Wall Street Journal about Walmart and an employee who had been in an accident and severely injured. She sued the party who caused her accident (not Walmart) and won an award. Walmart has claimed the bulk of it to repay medical expenses paid her through their health insurance and she is left without funds to pay for continuing care. The amounts were, as I recall ~$700K. In the case of the soldier there is at lest the possibility that a box was not checked.
11.21.2007 11:42am
gab:
"What we know as men we are not required to forget as [lawyers]."


EV - that's a good quote. I'll have to file that one away for future use.
11.21.2007 1:32pm
Gil Milbauer (mail) (www):
This reminds me of the british charging room and board to people who were wrongfully imprisoned .
11.21.2007 2:22pm
Thalia (mail):
Army policy prohibits what is described as "recoupment" when it would be contrary to equity and good conscience, or would be contrary to the nation's interests.

It was apparently a "mistake."
11.22.2007 2:21am