Today, I want to share a personal story about my Army Bonus Recoupment for the Critical Skill Retention Bonus (CSRB) that I received in 2008. This is going to be a long post, but I want to share all the details, in case you have a similar experience and need some guidance.
Just thinking about this entire situation brings back a lot of stress and bad memories, but my hope today is that my experience will help you avoid the same situation I went through. To be straightforward with you, I am not mad or angry at anyone, nor am I here to badmouth anyone. I just want to share what I went through and what I did to remedy it.
What Happened to Me
When I joined the Maryland Army National Guard as a First Lieutenant in 2005, I received a $6,000 bonus for a three year commitment. I served that time honorably without issue. In 2008, I was informed by my Battalion S1 of my eligibility for the Critical Skill Retention Bonus. Apparently, the Army was short on officers in my rank and year group and they were offering a bonus to retain us in the Army.
At this point in my career, I had just returned from a LONG deployment in Kosovo and had just taken Company Command. I was on the verge of resigning, but this large bonus influenced me to continue my service for another three years. I signed the bonus paperwork and extended my commitment to the Army National Guard for another three years. I received a $10,000 payment right away and was promised the second payment at the end of the three years.
During those three years (from 2008 to 2011) I was never AWOL, never FLAGGED, never in trouble, I had my military education done, and I was busy with Company Command. I was a damn good Officer and committed to fulfilling my obligation honorably. From 2008 to 2011 I served my time honorably and resigned my commission in April 2011, when my contract expired. I was then transferred into the IRR and spent one year in the IRR before resigning for good.
After I resigned my commission, I was still waiting for my second $10,000 bonus payment. I was wondering what took so long, so I made some inquiries through my former chain of command. No one could give me a direct answer, but I later found out that my bonus was DENIED.
The Dreaded Letter in the Mail
Around 9 June 2011, I received a Certified Letter in the Mail from the Fifth Regiment Armory, Maryland Army National Guard. The letter stated:
“You are hereby notified that you have been terminated from Critical Skill Retention Bonus participation effective 24 April 2008 due to the following reason: Officer signed for $20,000 Critical Skill Retention Bonus (CSRB) Addendum while still serving on a 3 year Officer Affiliation Bonus. Paragraph 6a. of the CSRB Policy stipulates that Service Members must have completed any contractual obligation as a result of participation in the Officer Accession of the Affiliation Bonus.
You are in debt to the U.S. Government for the amount of $10,000. You are requested to submit a cash repayment. Please make Cashier’s Check or Money Order Payable to U.S. Treasury.”
~ End letter
My Reaction and Response
Needless to say, when I received this official letter, I was livid. I wasn’t sure how the Army could not pay me AFTER I had already served my three year obligation honorably. Prior to this date, I was never notified that there was an issue with my contract or bonus. No one every told me the contract was voided. No one ever told me that something was wrong, nor was I given an opportunity to fix it.
After receiving the Certified Letter, I made a few calls to the Headquarters Office and didn’t get much help. As a result, I decided to contact a civilian attorney just for advice.
I later discovered that the state had done an Exception to Policy Request for me that was denied by the National Guard Bureau. Here is what the G1 wrote to the NGB for my Exception to Policy.
“I would like to request an exception to policy to authorize second and final payment of MAJ Charles Holmes for his Critical Skills Retention Bonus signed on 24 April 2008. Due to administrative error the bonus was processed 30 days prior to eligibility and the Officer was paid the first installment of the bonus. Further precautions are being taken to prevent future discrepancies.”
Even with good supporting documentation, my request for Exception to Policy was DENIED.
At this point, I was angry. I just didn’t know how they could overturn a bonus payment AFTER you served your time honorably, and that the mistake that happened was an administrative error made by someone else.
My Appeal to the Army Board of Correction of Military Records
My next alternative was to appeal to the Army Board of Correction of Military Records (ABCMR). This would be my last and final hope. I figured that if I could get before a panel of people, the decision would be reversed. It was just common sense.
I prepared my packet for the ABCMR. I filled out the DA Form 149 and also prepared a letter. This is the exact wording my letter said:
“My name is Charles Holmes. The purpose of this letter is to address the facts in my Critical Skill Retention Bonus case and to appeal the findings by the National Guard Bureau. I hope you will review the information below and consider my case.
On 24 April 2008, I signed the Critical Skills Retention Bonus contract, extending my obligation to the Maryland Army National Guard for three years. My contract was filled out by my Battalion S1 section and submitted to the MDARNG Education Office for processing. My contract was approved, and I received my first payment of $10,000 shortly thereafter. According to the contract, I would receive the second half of the bonus upon completing the additional three years.
After finishing my three year contract (two of those years in Company Command), I separated from the MDARNG on 24 April 2011 and transitioned to the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). At that point in time, I had already completed my three year contract with the MDARNG and was awaiting my second payment of $10,000.
I expected to receive the payment on or about 24 April 2011. After waiting a few weeks, I called the Maryland ARNG Education Office (in early May 2011) to verify the status of my payment. At this point, I was informed by the Education Office that my payment was delayed because NGB was reviewing all contracts, prior to releasing funds. Apparently, my payment was initially denied and the MDARNG had to submit a request for Exception to Policy to NGB for my contract.
On 28 April 2011, the MDARNG Education Services Officer submitted a Request for Exception to Policy stating that MAJ Holmes signed for the CSRB one month prior to being eligible. He had an Officer Affiliate Bonus obligation that did not end until 24 May 2008, therefore his CSRB should have not been initiated until 24 May 2008, at which time MAJ Holmes was fully eligible. He goes on to say that due to an administrative error executed by the Maryland State Incentive Manager, the CSRB was approved on 24 April 2008 and the installment was paid. He closes by saying that the error was not on the part of the Soldier and he should not be penalized.
On 28 April 2011, the MDARNG G1 submitted an exception to policy to NGB for the final $10,000 payment of my $20,000 CSRB bonus. In his letter, he stated that due to an administrative error the bonus was processed 30 days prior to the eligibility date and the officer was paid the first installment of the bonus.
On 12 May 2011, the National Guard Bureau reviewed the Exception to Policy and denied the release of my second $10,000 payment and determined that I was ineligible to receive the CSRB to begin with.
On 14 June 2011, the MDARNG Education Services Officer mailed a certified letter to my Home of Record to tell me the results of the NGB decision. The next day, 15 June 2011, the US Postal Service delivered the Certified Letter from the Maryland Army National Guard Education Services Officer stating that my CSRB Bonus contract was terminated and that I am in debt to the U.S. Government for $10,000.
When I received the letter I was shocked. This was the first time I ever heard there was an issue with my contract. At no point during my three year contract did anyone tell me that there was a problem with my contract. If they would have, I would have addressed the issue immediately.
Had my CSRB Contract been rejected initially, I would have left the military to become a civilian and would not have spent the next three years in the Maryland Army National Guard. Those extra three years included many non-paid training days and personal sacrifices.
In my opinion, to tell me that a contract is invalid, after the contract is finished, is completely unacceptable. I fulfilled all required duties of my contract. The reason for denial was due to an administrative error on the part of the processing officers. I believe I should receive my final $10,000 payment, because I fulfilled my obligations honorably. I ask the Army National Guard to do the same thing and fulfill their end of the contract.
After reading my case, I ask you to overturn the National Guard Bureau’s decision and to grant approval for my appeal. I’m asking you to approve my appeal and release the second $10,000 payment of my bonus. If you were in a similar situation, I’m sure you would feel exactly as I do. Thanks for reading my request.” ~ END LETTER
The Final Results
The entire Review Board Process lasted another six to ten months, before I received any documentation back. Fortunately, the Army Review Board overturned the decision and voted in my favor. However, it did take TWO YEARS to get that second payment and it was a constant battle.
Once again, this experience left a NEGATIVE impression in my mind about the military. It cemented my decision to resign and remain a civilian.
Army Bonus Recoupment: Lessons Learned
I learned a few KEY lessons from my experience with my Army bonus recoupment that I would like to share with you.
1) Keep good documentation – Always keep records of your important documents. Even if your document is accurate, you never know what will happen.
2) Know your rights – Educate yourself about the rules and procedures, so you know what you can and cannot do.
3) When you need to fight, fight – If you know you are right, fight for yourself. Make sure you fight for your Soldiers, too.
4) Get some help when you need it – Consult with your chain of command, JAG, a trusted peer and even a civilian attorney if needed
It helped me that I was a Major, and had a strong writing background. It helped that I was persistent and mentally tough. I feel for the young Soldiers who don’t know the rules, don’t have the persistence, and don’t have the writing skills to challenge their ruling. It would have been much easier just to give in, pay back the money, and move on, than to fight.
Once again, I am by no means mad or disgruntled at anyone. I don’t hold a grudge either. My only intent is to help other people avoid the same situation I went through.
In conclusion, the experience of going through an Army Bonus Recoupment is miserable. I don’t wish it upon anyone. If you ever find yourself in this situation, I hope you will follow the lessons learned I shared above and advocate for yourself. Also, if your soldiers are going through this, I hope you will help coach them and guide them through the appeals process.
On a side note, if you’ve ever had bonus money recouped by the Army, I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Thank you.