SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Facing a troop shortage and in the midst of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, California Guard officials offered bonuses of $15,000 or more for soldiers to re-enlist during the height of the country’s global war on terror.

Now the government is asking about 10,000 troops for the money back. If they refuse, they could face stiffer penalties, including interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens.

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The government has recovered about $22 million so far.

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard, told the Los Angeles Times. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”

A 2010 investigation discovered that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were wrongly given to soldiers in the California Guard. The audit found that there was widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials in order to meet enlistment goals.

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California Guard officials said they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals to erase debts but it’s a long process and there’s no guarantee they’ll win.

Troops were given a bonus when they enlisted, and now the government wants it back AP Photo

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