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Manteca soldier among those ordered to return bonuses
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California National Guard warrior Christopher Van Meter stands atop a tank during his deployment to the Middle East. - photo by Photo Contributed

Mantecan Chris Van Meter, who served America with the California National Guard in the Middle East, has been snagged in the “bonus gate” reenlistment funding scandal.
Some 6,500 California soldiers who were unknowingly accepted fraudulent signing bonuses and college aid to entice them to re-enlist to serve in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan have been ordered to repay the money by the Pentagon.
Van Meter, 42, received a Purple Heart for combat injuries he suffered in Iraq. He said it has been a “slap in the face” for the numerous things they asked the military personnel to do the past decade. The Mantecan said he is “very angry,” but in the same breath, proud of his service and that of the men and women who served with him and of those still in combat.
Van Meter was thrown from his armored vehicle when it was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He lives in a neighborhood east of Woodward Park in south Manteca.
The former Army captain had to return $46,000 in bonuses and student loans he received through his National Guard service by an order of the Department of Defense (DOD).  He said the bonuses were created to keep the troops in service.
Congressman Jeff Denham issued the following statement in response to reports that the Department of Defense had ordered military service members to repay enlistment bonuses from the California National Guard:
“As a veteran, I find it outrageous that the DOD would demand repayment for serving our country in the armed forces.  While those responsible for illegal actions should be held accountable, these brave men and women earned those enlistment bonuses and to demand them back at this juncture is a slap at patriotism. The Department of Defense is strong-arming our veterans for a repayment they don’t owe.  They signed a contract and answered the call of duty.”
It was more than a dozen years after the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts began that thousands of National Guard soldiers have been told to repay they received as an enticement for them to return to combat.  A number have already repaid including some who had to sell their homes to come up with the money.
The average payback is reported to be just over $9,000 while some have a greater debt.
Armed Services Committee member California Representative John Garimendi is drafting legislation to amend the National Defense Authorization Act that would potentially cover the soldiers’ collective debt.
Garimendi has been quoted as saying the Department of Defense annual budget stands at over $700 billion – plenty of money to take care of the soldiers who answered the call by their country. 
To date the National Guard has contacted 25 percent of the soldiers who are being ordered to return their bonuses while another three-quarters of the military personnel may possibly qualify for some form of forgiveness.
The veterans have been threatened with wage garnishments and interest penalties if they don’t pay back the bonuses in a timely fashion.
A National Guard investigator over the last six years was reviewing bonus payments made to soldiers from 2004 to 2010 and noted that most of the bonuses were legitimate, however because contract obligations were often incomplete some soldiers should not have kept all the money.

To contact Glenn Kahl, email