At the height of the Iraq war, Army enlistment and retention numbers were down and Reserve and National Guard recruiting had all but halted. The appeal of the National Guard was that one could serve his or her country (or state, more accurately) but not have to sacrifice a number of years to active duty service. Yet, once the U.S. was embroiled in two wars the possibility of deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan was all but a certainty.
In order to beef up recruitment numbers, the U.S. Army instituted a bonus program that would allow payments of $7500 to civilians or other National Guard soldiers for every new recruit they persuaded to enlist. Tuesday, Army officials offered testimony to the Senate panel chaired by Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, about how this program was abused, costing taxpayers at least $29 million.
Guidance counselors would often accept payments for “recommending” a student they knew planned to sign up for the military anyway. Five such counselors, according to the New York Times, received more than $100,000. Also, some military recruiters—who were barred from this program because they have their own bonus structure—would supplant their assistants’ financial information with their own.
Only some of the abuses have been documented, but once the investigation is complete it, the Times estimates the total cost could be $100 million. The investigation began in 2012 when after allegations of fraud surfaced; the military discovered multiple recruiting payments going into the same bank accounts. The investigation could go on until 2016 because the fraud was so rampant.
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Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn told the Times that he stood by the program, but was unaware of the abuse and actively cautioned his subordinates about the potential for it. “I told them: We got to catch the first peckerwoods to get out here and mess this thing up for everybody, and we got to prosecute them quickly.” Because of the statute of limitations may have expired, some scammers may get away scot-free. Something that, according to Sen. McCaskill, that would “break [her] heart.”