SAN ANTONIO -- They fought for our country, but now thousands of soldiers are fighting a new battle against their own military.
That's because the Pentagon is asking about 10,000 soldiers to pay back enlistment bonuses given out years ago.
The problem is impacting California National Guard soldiers that enlisted between 2007 and 2009. It was in 2010 that a federal investigation revealed thousands of bonuses were improperly given and now the military wants that money back.
“Every time you left the wire you were in danger,” said Army Sergeant First Class Robert Richmond.
Richmond proudly served this nation and in 2007 he was deployed to Iraq. It was six months after he decided to reenlist with the California National Guard.
“I knew for a fact that if I enlisted for six more years, there’s no doubt that I would be deployed again,” Richmond said.
It was a difficult decision, but one made easier since he would receive a $15,000 bonus.
“There's that thought in your head that I might not come back from this, so when you have $15,000 and you might not come back, you spend a little frivolously. You don't just save it for a rainy day in case the government wants it back 10 years later with interest,” Richmond said.
Richmond is referring to a 2014 letter he received from the Army asking for that bonus money back.
“I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t even make sense to me,” Richmond said.
Richmond said there was no way he could pay the money back and to make matters worse, when he was given the $15,000 bonus, it was taxed, but now the military wants the full amount.
“That was the first question I asked them. ‘Well, you only gave me eleven.’ And they're like, ‘Well too bad we want fifteen. You're going to have to pay the whole fifteen,’” Richmond said.
Richmond said he’s now been sent collection letters and his credit has taken a major hit. Because of that, he’s been living out of a suitcase in a San Antonio hotel while trying to launch a business. His wife and kids are in another state and they want to buy a home in San Antonio, but can’t until this is all sorted out.
“After 30 years of fighting battles for the United States Army, my final battle is fighting against them for soldiers and I never thought that would be my final battle and it is,” Richmond said.
After two years of writing letters to members of congress and reaching out for help, Richmond said he feels they’re finally gaining traction with nationwide media attention brought to the issue.
Tuesday the White House said President Obama has ordered the military to expedite a review of the thousands of soldiers impacted.
Today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon to stop clawing back excessive recruiting bonuses paid to California National Guardsmen.
Carter ordered a review of the program and charged his staff with developing a process to resolve the cases by July 1, 2017.
"Hundreds of affected guard members in California have sought and been granted relief," Carter said. "But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members."
But he said the Pentagon would have to work out how to deal with those who thought they were entitled to the bonuses but decided to pay them back anyway out of a sense of duty.
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