Certain qualified members of the military can receive special bonus pay for reenlisting. The largest bonus allowed by statute is $90,000, but most bonuses received will be far smaller. Active duty, guard, and reserve members can all qualify for a reenlistment bonus, along with professionals like JAG, dental, and medical personnel. Bonuses are based on the military skill of the re-enlistee being designated as “critical” by the military. Which positions will be considered for a bonus, and the amount to be paid, are up to the changing needs and discretion of your Armed Service Branch. A common problem, as a result, is that servicemembers will prepare for a job that offers a large bonus, only to find that when the time comes to sign their contract that it no longer qualifies. Unfortunately, there is usually nothing the soldier can do about it, so it is of the utmost importance that you carefully discuss your career options beforehand and do not make plans counting on such a bonus too far in advance.
Bonus checks are taxable income, so the full amount will normally not be on the check due to automatic withholding. Usually, bonuses under $20,000 will be granted in one lump sum on the one-year anniversary of the completion of training. Therefore, reenlisting servicemembers should expect to receive their bonus about a year after completing training. In the case of bonuses over $20,000, the servicemember is statutorily required to receive at least half of his/her bonus on or about a year after completing the requisite training with annual installments thereafter.
Because military pay is based on statute and not contract law, the legal remedies for missing a bonus are somewhat limited. Despite there being an actual contract signed by the re-enlistee, a servicemember may not sue for breach of contract over a reenlistment bonus. However, those whose bonus pay was authorized by statute (meaning their position qualified for a bonus at the time) can still eventually go to court to recover it through the Tucker Act.
The Tucker Act waives sovereign immunity to allow U.S. District Courts and the Court of Federal Claims jurisdiction to hear certain cases against the United States, including those arising by contract or statute (such as military reenlistment bonuses). But first the soldier must exhaust his administrative remedies. Remember that you are allowed legal representation throughout this process! “Administrative remedies” in this scenario means your branch’s board of corrections, such as the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) or the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR). First, file a petition with your board with the proper DD Form. When the board meets, it will either correct the error and start the process of getting your bonus paid, or give you the option to file an appeal within thirty (30) days. After it has heard your appeal—through the same process as your first petition—you and your attorney can sue under the Tucker Act.
We would be honored to serve as your advocate and partner during the period of your military legal process. Please get in touch and arrange your free initial consultation.