Following a report published by Military.com detailing the National Guard's failure to pay over 9,000 soldiers their signing bonuses, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers has sent a letter to the National Guard's commanding officer, demanding answers for the lack of accountability and to know when the service members will get their bonuses.
Penned by Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Trent Kelly, R-Miss., all military veterans themselves, the letter questions the actions of the Guard's handling of incentives, further demanding the status of incentive oversight teams, what the National Guard is doing to address the backlog and why the Guard does not currently have a policy covering the payout of incentives.
"It is absolutely unacceptable that the National Guard has not paid thousands of soldiers and veterans the enlistment bonuses they were promised," Gallego, a Marine veteran, said. "We need answers."
The letter was addressed to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment by Military.com.
Highlighted in the letter were the details surrounding prolonged issues with the incentive payment system revealed by Military.com in October. The Army National Guard Incentive Management System, or GIMS, was first established in 2012 and allowed states to track and manage incentive bonuses, until a 2018 crash rendered it temporarily unusable.
"Perhaps most troubling is that the report suggests the system has crashed twice within a five-year period, leading to two 10-month-long outages. It even seems, according to the report, that these outages -- together comprising nearly two years -- led to a manual process whereby staff tracked payments on dry-erase boards, drastically raising the potential for both delays and errors," the letter read.
Guardsmen across multiple states heard a variety of reasons over the years from their civilian and Guard leadership as to why their bonuses or incentives had yet to be paid. Some were told the state's budget could no longer afford them while others simply got lost in the bureaucracy of the National Guard's payment and complaint filing systems.
"I was really relying on this money to help with moving into a new place with my wife," one soldier told Military.com, while explaining that the first half of his $20,000 enlistment bonus was a year overdue. "I did my end of things, and this is a really bad introduction to the Army, not taking care of people."
In exchange for part-time service and the occasional deployment, soldiers can earn up to $20,000 in bonus money, traditionally paid out in chunks.
The first installment is meant to be paid out after the soldier completes initial service training, and any payments made more than 30 days after that mark are considered late. The second half of the bonus is typically paid out during the second half of the service member's contract.
While the National Guard Bureau set up an incentive oversight team to try to fix some of these issues at the state level more than a year ago, soldiers are still facing pay issues.
"We take the report of delayed bonus payments to National Guard members seriously and are focused on working towards a prompt and fair resolution," Kelly said in regard to signing the letter. "It is our duty to ensure that our service members are supported and receive the benefits they have been promised."
-- Rachel Nostrant is a freelance reporter and Marine veteran. She has previously worked for Military Times, Reuters and others, covering the war in Ukraine and U.S. national affairs. She is on X @rachelnostrant.