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WHAT OTHERS SAY: National Guard recruiting fraud needs full accounting

Friday, February 14, 2014 | 6:33 p.m. CST

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is once again using the auditor skills she honed while an elected official in Missouri.

McCaskill’s Senate subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight is investigating a $29 million Army fraud that involves illegal recruiting bonuses paid to certain National Guard members.

It’s the worst kind of fraud, one that uses the cover of the military bureaucracy to steal from taxpayers while brave soldiers and Marines were still humping packs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“These are criminals that have dishonored the uniform,” McCaskill says.

Indeed.

Her committee should follow the investigation down whatever dark trails it leads. The guilty must be punished, and that includes those at the highest level of government who allowed the fraud to be perpetrated.

According to McCaskill’s investigators, Missouri has 18 current or former National Guard recruiters implicated in the fraud, more than any other state except for California and Texas.

The Guard’s complicated relationship with the Army is partly to blame for the fraud, which took place between 2005 and 2012.

The Recruiting Assistance Program paid bonuses of between $2,000 and $7,500 per recruit at a time when the military was struggling to fill its ranks during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out, however, that millions of dollars in bonuses were paid for recruits who were already going to join the Army.

Because each state’s National Guard reports to an adjutant general, oversight of such a program varied by state. Adjutants general are appointed by governors, and thus have a special political relationship that is different than other generals.

To better understand how such fraud can go undetected for many years, look no further than the Missouri National Guard’s history of cover-ups or blatant disregard for Army regulations when it comes to discrimination complaints.

Last month, the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Rudi Keller reported on yet another such case, building on years of reporting on the issue in the Post-Dispatch and the Tribune. Lt. Col. Michael Fayette has accused Missouri Adjutant General Steve Danner and his former chief of staff, Col. Wendul Hagler, of a campaign of “reprisal, retaliation, intimidation and harassment” against officers who have complained of being discriminated against. The Department of Defense is investigating, according to the Tribune.

Maj. Gen. Danner, and generals before him in Missouri, have faced this complaint before. One such complaint, filed by a black captain more than a decade ago, led to several officers being punished by the National Guard for covering up a botched investigation.

State adjutants general, and those Guard officers who want to rise to that position, serve two masters, the Army and the state’s political system. Too often, as when the Guard tried to hide allegations of looting by some of its soldiers after the Joplin tornado in 2011, high-ranking officers try to protect their governor from bad publicity rather than follow the regulations and just plain good sense that should guide their actions, both as military officers and public officials.

In the case of the recruiting fraud, about 1,200 soldiers and civilians are under investigation, including 200 officers and at least one general.

Ms. McCaskill’s committee should not rest until those at the upper end of the hierarchy have paid a price for failing to honor the uniform and protect taxpayers from fraud.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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