DoD Sec. Ash Carter orders Pentagon to stop reclaiming reenlistment bonuses

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Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to stop clawing-back the bonuses that thousands of soldiers got for reenlisting to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people," Carter said in a statement. "That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word. Today, in keeping with that obligation, I am ordering a series of steps to ensure fair treatment for thousands of California National Guard soldiers who may have received incentive bonuses and tuition assistance improperly as a result of errors and in some cases criminal behavior by members of the California National Guard."

Carter's announcement was greeted with cheers in Kempner, Texas where Don and Susan Haley — both Iraq War veterans — had been struggling to pay back the bonuses they got when they reenlisted a decade ago in the California National Guard.

"This is awesome," Don Haley, 47, told NBC News. "I wish this happened a week ago. My wife just cut a check for $650 to cover this month's payment."

Related: Also see the U.S. military in Afghanistan:

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TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers load ammunition into rifles during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US soldiers part of NATO patrol during the final day of a month long anti-Taliban operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) in various parts of eastern Nangarhar province, at an Afghan National Army base in Khogyani district on August 30, 2015. Afghan security forces launched a joint anti-militant operation in three districts, killing over 150 armed insurgents and wounding 112 others with 13 security personnel killed and three others were wounded in the past 30 days, Afghan National Army Commander Zaman Waziri said. AFP PHOTO / Noorullah Shirzada (Photo credit should read Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are served lunch at a kitchen inside a base in the Khogyani districtin the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, US army soldiers fire during a military exercise inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army personnel keep watch at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers play basketball at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 14, 2015, a US army soldier and military dog keep watch as Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk through coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier takes aim during a military exercise at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk as a NATO helicopter flies overhead at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 13, 2015, US army soldiers play chess inside coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier poses for a photograph at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier looks on with binoculars at Coalition forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier stands guard at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, a US army soldier plays on a smartphone as he lies on a bed at coalition force Forward Operating Base (FOB) Connelly in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFGHANISTAN-US-ARMY-CONFLICT-FOCUS BY GUILLAUME DECAMME In this photograph taken on August 12, 2015, US army soldiers walk past an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the Khogyani district in the eastern province of Nangarhar. From his watchtower in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, US army Specialist Josh Whitten doesn't have much to say about his Afghan colleagues. 'They don't come up here anymore, because they used to mess around with our stuff. 'Welcome to Forward Operating Base Connelly, where US troops are providing training and tactical advice to the 201st Afghan army corps as they take on the Taliban on the battlefield. AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
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The good news for the Haleys, whose son lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan, came after Carter — in an exclusive interview with NBC News — blasted the treatment of thousands of soldiers who were being forced to return the bonuses they got for signing up for six more years.

"Well, of course I am outraged," Carter said. "This is a case where we have a trust with the service members who have served us and ... we need do justice. And we need to do it fast."

The scandal involving some 9,700 California National Guard soldiers who got the bonuses in 2006 and 2007, when the Bush Administration was struggling to find soldiers to fight the two wars, stoked nationwide outrage after The Los Angeles Times broke the story over the weekend.

But the Pentagon determined that a majority of those soldiers, about 6,500, needed to repay the bonuses because they were not actually eligible for them or the paperwork at the time had errors.

Related: Raqqa Offensive Against ISIS to Begin Within Weeks

Soldiers who refused to pay the bonuses back faced possible interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

The Pentagon's demand that they return the cash angered Washington lawmakers, who in a bipartisan show of support launched an investigation into the scandal and ordered the California National Guard to turn over documents and audits concerning the program by Nov. 7.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has called for the officials who mismanaged the program to be "held accountable."

Other lawmakers, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, vowed to pass legislation to halt the recovery of the bonuses as soon as Congress is back in session after the Nov. 8 election.

Carter said he does not yet know how far-reaching the problem has been although the Department of Defense has acknowledged it could extend beyond California. He said he would like to remedy the issue without waiting for Congress.

"We are going to do everything we possibly can without waiting for any change in the law [although] there are some legal limitations," he said. "We need to do the right thing by our service members — that's the main thing. We also have to do the right thing by the taxpayer. And of course we will."

US Arm Mayor Jamie Davis, a Defense Department spokesman, said they are reviewing other cases where vets were ordered to pay back reenlistment bonuses.

"As it looks right now, this is an isolated incident in California and not a nationwide issue," said Davis. "There may be some others out there, but nothing to this extent."

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