The military offers large bonuses to families as an incentive to join. These bonuses can be a great blessing to a family who is offering so much to our country, or so I thought until now. Here is one woman’s story of how a $5,000 sign-on bonus from the government turned into a nightmare instead of a blessing.
I have asked this woman, whom I will call “Elizabeth”, to share her story with us. Elizabeth is concerned that if her name is not protected, it could negatively affect her husband’s job overseas. Her husband is currently serving in Afghanistan. Elizabeth agreed to share her family’s story if I agreed to protect her and her husband’s identity. We will call her husband “John”.
We understand the U.S. government gave you a $5,000 bonus a few months ago, and now the military have asked you to pay it back. Will you please explain the situation?
Elizabeth, “When my husband (John) joined the Army Reserves he was promised a sign on bonus. Later, this turned into a promise that if he finished military schooling he would get a $5,000 bonus. When he finished his schooling, the reserve unit lost his bonus paper work. We called John’s recruiter and told him. The recruiter got in contact with his leaders. A month before my husband (John) joined the regular Army (he had been with his reserve unit for 12 months), he got his bonus. Now, the reserve unit John was with is saying John has no rights to that money and that we have to pay that money back because according to them my husband was only with them for 11 months (which isn’t true he was with them for 12 months)!!!
After John was in the Army Reserves for 12 months, he transferred to the regular army. Is that correct?
Elizabeth, “That is correct.”
When did you receive the $5,000 bonus?
Elizabeth, “We got it in late July.”
When you received the $5,000 bonus did you expect to pay it back?
Elizabeth, “No, if we would have had any idea that the military would take it back, we would have left it in the bank account.”
Did you and your husband use the $5,000 bonus?
Elizabeth, “Yes, it’s been almost a year since we got it.”
When did the Military contact you and tell you had to pay it back?
Elizabeth, “I got a letter in the mail saying we owed it, and that was in February 2007.”
No, January 2007.
When you received this notice, what did you do imm
Elizabeth, “I called the senator.”
Taking a step backwards, didn’t you tell me before the interview that you had called the army reserve unit?
Elizabeth, “Oh yeah, I did and the army reserve unit said John signed a contract saying the army reserve unit could take it back, but they never sent proof of the papers to me.”
Did you request that they send you proof John signed something that said the military could request the bonus back?
What did the military say when you requested proof?
Elizabeth, “The military said they would mail me proof. They never mailed me proof and I never pursued it after that.”
After you waited and didn’t receive proof that you had to pay the bonus back, then what happened?
Elizabeth, “Then I got the letter (IRS), I called the senators office, and then the military took my income tax return to pay some of the $5,000 back.”
So, after you called the military, you filed your taxes, right?
You expected to receive a refund. How big was the refund supposed to be?
How did the military take the $3,000 they owed you?
Elizabeth, “They took it out of our income tax return.”
Did you give the military permission to take the money out of your tax return?
How did you find out the military took the money out of your taxes?
Elizabeth, “The tax refund didn’t get sent to me in the mail so I called the IRS and they told me what was going on.”
Did you receive a letter from the IRS indicating the money was not going to be sent to you directly?
Elizabeth, “Yes, they said they would send it to me in the mail, per my request.”
Let me reiterate as I understand. The military sent you a $5,000 bonus in late July.
You received notice in January of 2007 that you would have to pay it back.
You called the military. You requested that they send you proof that you owed the bonus.
The military told you that they would mail you proof.
You never received proof in the mail that you owed the money back.
How did you find out from the IRS that your tax refund was used to pay off your military bonus?
Elizabeth, “I got a letter in the mail saying it was taken to pay off my husband’s bonus.”
After you received the letter in the mail telling you the IRS had taken your families tax return to pay the military back the bonus, how did you feel?
Elizabeth, “Sad, because the income tax return was going to pay my way to see my newborn nephew.” (Elizabeth’s nephew lives in IL and was born this year. Elizabeth lives miles away and traveled to see him shortly after his arrival.)
What did you do after you received the letter from the IRS?
Elizabeth, “I called the senators office and informed them of what was going on with my income tax return.”
When you informed the senator of the current situation, what was the senator’s response?
Elizabeth, “I talked to his assistant and she said that my situation is top priority and this would be solved as quickly as possible, but as we all know we can do everything in our power but the Army is slow at getting things done on their end.”
What events have happened since you called the senators office?
Elizabeth, “Since then I’ve been in touch with the family readiness group (per the senator’s assistants’ request) and they told me that I couldn’t do anything. Instead, my husband who is over in Afghanistan will have to take care of this issue on his own.”
For those of us that don’t understand what a family readiness group is, would you please explain how this group assists military families?
Elizabeth, “The FRG is a group that helps military families when spouse is away at war, they have monthly meetings, newsletters, and give info on what the military base has to offer. FRG stands for family readiness group.”
So the family readiness group spoke to you and said that your husband who is currently fighting the war to protect our nation needs to follow up in Afghanistan regarding his bonus?
Elizabeth, “No, the FRG put me in contact with a lady who I have no idea what organization she is from and she said my hubby would have to follow up on his bonus since it’s his problem and not mine. This is despite that fact that I have power of attorney while he is gone.”
What did the FRG say your husband would need to do?
Elizabeth, “They didn’t say anything they just gave me a number to call and said to talk to this lady.”
What did this lady say your husband would need to do?
Elizabeth, “They said that he would need to talk to legal aid out in Afghanistan.”
What will John need to do in order to follow through with this ladies suggestion and talk to US military legal aid in Afghanistan?
Elizabeth, “John will have to call his first sergeant and tell him he will need to have the day off, then he will have to go stand in line for any amount of time (even if it takes days), as he might get seen that day or not. If not, then he will have to request more days off until he gets through the line and gets his situation corrected. Meanwhile, I’m at home all day with nothing to do and no one to answer to, I would have the time to get this situation under control. “
How long does it take to get through a legal aid line typically?
Elizabeth, “Don’t know.”
What is the situation as of this moment?
Elizabeth, “No one has called me, the senator’s office told me to call them if I needed their help with this situation and I will be doing that soon, but with this being Memorial Day weekend I won’t be able to get a hold of anyone until Tuesday. Yeah, happy Memorial Day weekend indeed.”
Is there anything you haven’t said that you would like to add?
Elizabeth, “Memorial Day was a day to commemorate all the fallen soldiers and the soldiers, who fought in any war…..and here we are a military family and I couldn’t be less thrilled about Memorial Day because of all that we’ve been through.
As a family we feel cheated. There, that’s all.”
I am appreciative of the US military and their dedication to helping people by working overseas. I have always been under the impression that the military does their best to help the families of those who are overseas. After all, if the United States asks these soldiers to risk their life for our country, and the military families to temporarily separate in order for the United States to fight a war overseas, why wouldn’t they do what they can to protect and provide for those families?
The current situation: The government has asked her to pay the $5,000 bonus back. They told her the bonus was not her husband’s to keep. Instead, it was a loan from the government (funny, they didn’t explain this during sign-on). Elizabeth said that her & her husband never would have accepted the $5,000 had it been explained to them that this was a loan they would have to pay back. The government (aka military) offered her a no-interest re-payment plan for around $100 a month. The military says John signed something which stated that if the military requested the bonus, John & Elizabeth would be required to pay it back. Elizabeth requested the military to send her this signed document. The military said they would mail Elizabeth a copy of this document. After many weeks, Elizabeth has not received a copy of this document. Recently, the government garnished a $3,000 tax refund to pay the bonus back. Elizabeth was not informed that the military would be taking her tax refund until after the government had already been paid. The tax refund Elizabeth expected to receive was from extra money submitted to the federal government while John was working at a non-military job. Elizabeth is currently working with a U.S. senator who is also appalled by the military’s request. This senator is working to create awareness in Washington D.C. about Elizabeth & John’s predicament.