Thousands of soldiers are being forced to pay back a large bonus they were promised to re-enlist in the California National Guard.
It has been a decade since they were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon says they were overpaid. FOX 7 spoke with a retired army master sergeant who could now lose her home in Central Texas.
A broken promise.
"I gave my time, that I will never get back, and now they want their money back. They can't give me back the missed birthdays and things of that nature," says Susan Haley, retired master sergeant, U.S. Army.
It's taken a toll on Susan Haley who spent 26 years in the Army along with her husband and son.
She's devastated that this is how nearly 10,000 soldiers are being treated after serving their country.
"I volunteered for my first deployment because they needed me. I volunteered for my Afghanistan deployment because they needed me," says Haley.
Now that she needs them, they aren't there. A decade ago, the California Guard offered $15,000 bonuses to those who re-enlisted. A federal investigation in 2010 found that the payments were improperly given out to soldiers. Many are being asked to pay back the full amount, plus interest. Haley owes more than $20,000.
"We are literally broke. We don't have any more savings. We're using our emergency savings fund to pay this bill every month. If this continues, we won't be able to make our house payment," says Haley.
This was during the height of two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a shortage of troops. The California Guard was under pressure to fill ranks and hit enlistment goals.
The Pentagon agency that oversees state guard groups says bonus over-payments occurred in every state, but more so in California. Robert Richmond, Army sergeant first class, lives in San Antonio and has filed appeal after appeal.
"They're just playing these games to try and get out of it. So yea, we're responding. The lawsuit in California is still going through. We're hoping that somebody in Congress will stop all of this before we have to keep going through court and stop it for soldiers across the whole United States," says Robert Richmond, sergeant first class, U.S. Army Special Forces
He suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq after an IED struck the vehicle he was in.
"I just felt betrayed, demoralized and couldn't believe after 30 years of service that they would treat me like this," says Richmond.
These are the tough moments that these soldiers thought they would be honored for.
"It's very stressful, it's scary and upsetting that after all my family went through, that they're doing this to my family," says Haley.
California Guard officials say they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals with agencies that can erase the debts. But, there's no guarantee they'll win.