Nearly 8,000 airmen stationed in South Korea will not have to pay back more than $2 million worth of overpayments issued last year, the Air Force has decided.
Between March 1, 2022, and Nov. 30, 2022, 7,800 airmen stationed at 11 locations throughout South Korea received a total of $2.3 million in hardship-duty pay, which wasn't supposed to have been issued during that time period, Air Force spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Deana Heitzman told Military.com.
Typically, the service tries to claw back erroneous payments from service members, but it's letting it slide this time.
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"The members were overpaid solely from an agency error," Heitzman told Military.com. "Due to no fault of the members, they accrued a debt. The Air Force determined it was in the best interest of the service to remit the debts and not pursue collection actions."
The Air Force Personnel Center Operating Location Indianapolis was supposed to have stopped Hardship Duty Pay at 11 different locations throughout the Republic of Korea, but did not.
An email detailing the error that was shared on social media and verified as authentic by the Air Force said "appropriate policy and systems were not updated to reflect the change."
"No debts will be established/collected and those members will be allowed to keep any overpayment associated with this error," the memo said.
Heitzman told Military.com that Department of the Air Force Instruction 36-3034 allows for the service to collect large debts in certain circumstances, but that Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall had approved the decision not to collect the overpayments.
A 2019 Government Accountability Office report detailed major improvements the military needs to make in recouping overpayments from service members. That report found that "collection actions related to overpayments have placed undue burden on service members and their families, such as financial hardship, garnished wages, and damaged credit scores."
Many overpayment debts can end up in the hands of collection agencies, or a service member's wages can be garnished to pay off the debt.
-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
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