Local Soldier Not Satisfied by Announcement to Halt National Guard Bonus Paybacks

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SACRAMENTO -- After fighting to defend this country in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of soldiers came home from war to be told they had to return re-enlistment bonuses because of "errors" and "criminal behavior" by members of the California National Guard.

"We've been terrorized by this for 10 years, five years on paper," said Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Strother.

A big announcement came Wednesday for Strother and thousands of others who were ordered to pay back the money given to them before deployment.

"I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Carter ordered department officials to establish a process to handle the cases by January 1 and to complete the decision-making process by July 1, 2017.

"This is like cancer in remission, we have to wait," Strother said.

Strother and his attorney Daniel Willman feel the announcement will simply keep the soldiers waiting in frustration even longer.

"I can't believe they think soldiers are this dumb," Willman said. "All they have done is created more misery and uncertainty for these soldiers. They've just punted this into the next administration," he added.

Strother has successfully appealed and no longer has to pay back his bonus.

Still, he and Willman are moving forward with a class-action lawsuit in hopes of providing faster, permanent relief for thousands of other soldiers.

"This is not a remedy, and we are not abandoning them, whether we have to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States," said Willman.

Several lawmakers have reacted to the announcement.

Congressman John Garamendi called it a step in the right direction. However, he points out that it still leaves thousands of soldiers to go through the grueling appeals process that Strother has already completed.