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SD veteran wants answers about military recoupment request

By ELISA SAND | American News, Aberdeen, S.D. | Published: November 2, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Thirteen years after he enlisted and seven years after he fulfilled his contract with the South Dakota National Guard, Jayson Brenner is being asked to pay back part of the sign-on bonus he received from the military.

Brenner enlisted as a member of the South Dakota National Guard in 2006. He was 17. His six years of service included an active duty assignment in Kuwait.

Now 29, the Bristol man is being asked by the military to pay back one fourth of the $20,000 sign-on bonus he received when he enlisted.

Brenner recalls receiving a $20,000 bonus when he signed up to learn how to be a track vehicle mechanic, but according to the enlistment paperwork he signed and initialed in several places, his bonus is listed as $15,000. But he also recalls receiving additional recruitment bonuses for referring at least two friends who also enlisted.

"They had so many incentives at the time," Brenner said.

Now, according to a letter he received on Oct. 10, the National Guard is claiming his enlistment bonus should have been $15,000 and they want the difference returned. It's what the military calls a recoupment.

His big question is why now? The only thing that's changed, he said, is recent approval of benefits for tinnitus – ringing in his ears. That started five months ago.

A look at his discharge paperwork shows an honorable discharge with no recoupment required.

Lt. Anthony Deiss, director of public relations for the South Dakota National Guard, said a recoupment can be requested for one of two reasons:

  • Failure on the soldier's part to meet the requirements of his or her service contract.
  • An overpayment by the government.

In the case of an overpayment, Deiss said, he couldn't speak on the time frame where a recoupment would be requested, but these requests are rare, and there's only one case in South Dakota.

In any case, Deiss said, the South Dakota National Guard is simply the messenger relaying the request which comes from Defense Finance and Accounting Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense.

When he thinks about why, Brenner said, he immediately thinks about the thousands of veterans in California who were asked to return bonuses the military considered questionable. Coverage of the collection efforts from these veterans appeared in 2016 and 2017.

According to reports at the time, the military used a variety of methods to collect what the military called questionable bonuses. Eventually an investigation resulted in the Pentagon waiving the repayment requests and refunded veterans who had already paid.

Those collection efforts involved members of the National Guard who enlisted or reenlisted between 2004 and 2010.

There is an appeal process, which Brenner plans to pursue as far as he can go.

"I'm willing to protest it as much as I can," he said. "It's not about the money, it's about the principle of the thing."

He also questions if there's a statute of limitations when it comes to the military seeking a repayment of money paid and wonders if there are others in South Dakota in this same situation.

"I can't believe I'm the only guy," he said. "We can get strength in numbers."

The American News reached out to South Dakota's congressional delegates. Rep. Dusty Johnson's office hasn't received any calls about this situation. Sen. John Thune's office said assistance is provided to veterans on a variety of cases, but declined to go into detail about the cases for privacy reasons.

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