The Army National Guard Owes Thousands of Former Soldiers Unpaid Bonuses. It's Asking Them to Figure It Out.

Ruck march during the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition
A U.S. Army artillery forward observer assigned to the Tennessee Army National Guard and a carpentry and masonry specialist assigned to the West Virginia Army National Guard prepare for the ruck march during the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 12, 2023. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kinsey Geer)

Thousands of former Army National Guard soldiers were mailed letters from the service component asking them to figure out whether they are owed unpaid bonuses, according to internal documents reviewed by

The Guard letters went to former soldiers who may have never received their promised enlistment bonus after the service component got behind on the payments. The vague correspondence essentially asks them to jump through bureaucratic hoops to find out whether they're owed anything, and if so, how much, the documents show.

In October, was first to report that the Army National Guard was behind on paying out about 13,000 bonuses, some of which have been delayed for years. The backlog has gotten so severe that 3,900 of those soldiers completed their service and left the military without ever getting paid.

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Following that reporting -- and questions from lawmakers on the matter -- the service component is now asking the former soldiers to file claims, which include various online applications and gathering records such as initial enlistment documents and discharge orders, which they may not have or do not have easy access to.

Instead of being specific on how much the former Guardsmen are owed, the letters do not outright tell them whether they are owed a bonus, just that they might be, officials explained, raising questions about how well the Guard is tracking who it owes money.

"We're putting the onus on the soldier here," one Guard official with direct knowledge of the situation told on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press. "It's confusing and they can go through this huge process, wait months, only to be told they aren't owed anything. We should figure out what money we owe who, and just send them a check."

The National Guard did not return a request for comment ahead of publication.

Enlistment bonuses can be up to $20,000 and are typically paid out in two chunks: one after the soldier completes their initial training and the other at the halfway point of the soldier's contract. Bonuses are supposed to be paid within 30 days of those two milestones, but that goal is not codified in policy.

The backlog started in 2018 when servers that processed bonuses were damaged by a fire at the Pentagon. The Guard was then unable to process payments for 10 months. The system crashed again in 2021, leading to another 10-month blackout as part of an unrelated incident.

The bonus backlog caused first by technical issues was further inflamed by service component staff at the state level, Guard officials said.

Two state adjutants general said that in their respective states, staff are poorly trained on processing bonuses and have no systemic procedures. In some cases, soldiers who are owed bonuses have been tracked by hand on paper or dry erase boards, which has caused confusion in some states.

In November, Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.; Mike Waltz, R-Fla.; and Trent Kelly, R-Miss., all military veterans themselves, sent a letter to the National Guard's commanding officer questioning the handling of incentives.

"It is absolutely unacceptable that the National Guard has not paid thousands of soldiers and veterans the enlistment bonuses they were promised," Gallego, a Marine veteran, said at the time. "We need answers."

The news comes as the Army is struggling to dig out of a years-long recruiting slump. There's little evidence enlistment bonuses on their own generate recruits, but they can sweeten the deal and also direct applicants to sign up for certain fields as the service struggles to fill the ranks.

The Army as a whole is eyeing cuts to education benefits, particularly the Credentialing Assistance Program. was first to report on Army planners mulling curtailing funding of the program as its popularity since being fully implemented in 2020 has ballooned in cost.

While that specific program isn't key to recruiting pitches, education benefits as a whole are, and the optics of reducing any of those benefits could be devastating, particularly during an election year. Some lawmakers have promised strong pushback, and Army Secretary Christine Wormuth was asked about's reporting this week on Capitol Hill.

The service is also reviewing federal tuition assistance, though it's unclear what changes could be underway. That benefit isn't to be confused with National Guard tuition assistance, which is controlled by the states, and is not under any review for cuts.

Meanwhile, the Army National Guard has run into other hiccups on bonuses, including in March when service planners miscalculated funding and suspended those bonuses for a week. Anyone who enlisted in the Army National Guard between March 1 and March 7 are not eligible for bonuses.

Related: Soldiers Unpaid: National Guard Hasn't Paid Out Thousands of Enlistment Bonuses

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