OROVILLE (CBS13) – Thousands of soldiers are being asked by the Pentagon to give back money they received in bonuses. After 30 years of service, Sergeant First Class Bryan Strother feels disregarded and disrespected by the entire ordeal.
“Betrayed, that’s how I felt,” Strother said. “I was shocked and didn’t know what to do!”READ MORE: CBS13 Poll: Did You Do Any Black Friday Shopping This Year?
Nine years ago, Strother went to a re-enlistment seminar where a brigadier general promised him a $15,000 bonus for continued service. But Strother was reluctant to deploy again and miss more of his daughter’s life. Still, he felt he had no choice.
“I missed her terrible,” he said. “She was just a little girl then. And I really thought about it but I needed the money. Recovering from a divorce.”
Nearly a decade ago, the United States Armed forces was short on troops fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the California National Guard offered thousands of soldiers bonuses up to $15,000 to go to war. According to the Los Angeles Times, bonuses were handed out most liberally to the California National Guard. But now the government is asking for that money back.
“Wow, where am I going to pull this?” Strother wondered. “Where am I going to pull this out of?”
Strother got his letter in 2012, demanding he pay back $25,000 and turned to his friend and attorney Daniel Willman for help.READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide To Black Friday 2021
“This is the most egregious mass fraud committed against service personnel ever,” Willman told CBS13.
In thousands of cases, the money was given to soldiers up front, similar to a signing bonus. But according to the Los Angeles Times, those bonuses were supposed to be limited to soldiers in high demand assignments. A federal investigation found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California Guard Soldiers who didn’t qualify.
“I questioned nothing in that seminar as to what that general was telling me,” Strother said. “I believed him!”
Strother spent four years fighting claims that he owned $25,000. He filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court earlier this year, claiming the Guard misled them into re-enlisting. In August, he got the news that the money owed had been waived on good faith. But Willman and Strother said they’re still going forward with the suit, looking for justice for thousands of soldiers and veterans still struggling to figure out what to do.
“It’s a burden, it’s my burden,” Strother said. “And it’s not just mine. It’s everyone else involved in this.”MORE NEWS: Portland's Robert Covington Fined For Mask Throwing Outburst Against Sacramento Kings
Willman said he will not drop the case until the wrongs are undone. He wants military leadership to give back what they’ve taken and never let it happen again.