Veterans Who Worked as Interpreters Say Pentagon Failed to Pay Bonuses.
WASHINGTON -- When the California National Guard desperately needed interpreters to accompany troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, it promised enlistment bonuses of up to $20,000 each to dozens of Arabic, Dari and Pashto speakers.
The Pentagon's need for crucial language skills on the battlefield was so great that some interpreters were put in uniform even though they were too old or had health problems that might have disqualified them from military service.
That relaxing of the rules has come back to haunt them. Many of the interpreters who went to war were only partially paid their bonuses because the California Guard later decided they were unfit for the military service that they already had given.
Some say they are now unemployed, suffering from post-traumatic stress and combat injuries. Many are embittered at the California Guard, which they say broke its commitments.
"As far as I know, it's only the interpreters who didn't get paid," said Khatchig Khatchadourian, an Arabic interpreter from Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley who says the California Guard still owes him half the $20,000 bonus it agreed to pay when he enlisted in 2008. "They think we're stupid because we are immigrants."
The plight of the interpreters, known in military jargon as 09 Limas, offers a new wrinkle in the enlistment bonus scandal that has roiled the California Guard and the top levels of the Pentagon.
The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau reported last month that the Pentagon was demanding repayment of enlistment bonuses paid to nearly 10,000 California Guard soldiers at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago.
In response to a public outcry, and at the urging of the White House, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ordered a suspension of the repayment programand set up an appeals process to review the debts.
But the 09 Limas are different. Unlike soldiers who received large bonuses and were ordered to repay the money years later, the interpreters say they were never paid.
The California Guard has identified 44 interpreters who were affected by the shifts in recruitment standards or other problems, said Col. Peter Cross, a spokesman.
"The complexity arose in cases where neither the soldier nor the Guard could locate a copy of any agreement, although work was done by the soldier that likely would have given rise to a bonus payment," he wrote in an email.
Nearly half the 09 Limas deployed within the first year and then requested to go to the Inactive National Guard to work as private contractors, who normally were paid much more, Cross said.
My channel: https://goo.gl/GlsbOr
Url video: https://goo.gl/3B9TMV