California Airman told he owes $22k for bonuses due to DFAS error

Lt. Col. Chris Reeder
Lt. Col. Chris Reeder

A US Air Force Reservist is claiming that a payroll issue with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service has left him over $22,000 in debt to the Treasury Department.

44-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Chris Reeder of the AFRES says that while he spent the last year deployed against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a “systemic dysfunction” at DFAS has caused great strife for his wife and three young children after the Californian Airman was forced to end some of his military contracts early.

While Reeder doesn’t deny that he needs to repay the debts, he says that the Indianapolis-based DFAS has internal systems so broken that he is having trouble paying his bills. Despite repeated attempts to repay the debt, his account is now in collections.

An Air Force Reservist for the past 19 years, Reed has flown in combat theaters such as Afghanistan Iraq and Syria, routinely taking on contracts that included signing bonuses that were delivered in lump sums at the start of the contracts.

However, if the contracts ended early, he was expected to return any unearned portions.

“I knew I would have to repay unearned portions of my bonus,” Reeder said. “I just never thought it’d be this difficult.”

On his last 2010 contract, Reeder signed a four-year, $25,000 per year lump sum annual contract, which included deployment to the Middle Eastern theater of operations. During the deployment, Reeder requested that DFAS suspend his payments so that his wife would not have to worry about paying the agency while he was away.

“I didn’t want her to worry about that on top of all the things she has to do,” Reeder told the Indy Star.

When the contract ended early in 2014, Reeder owed $9,000 in unearned salary and $8,000 in already-steep California income taxes.

Upon return in November of 2015, he asked that his debt be reinstated so he could pay off the $17,000. Unfortunately, DFAS reportedly made it “impossible” to do so.

“I called DFAS, made requests to reinstate the debt, they told me to go to a website, when I called back because the website wasn’t working, they never answered the phone,” Reeder said. “I called over and over- and no response.”

Reeder’s debt went into collections, where it eventually grew to $22,000.

“This has created a lot of uncertainty for my family,” he said. “We can’t think about getting the kids music lessons, or plan for the future.”

Reeder isn’t the first -or likely the last- do run into DFAS woes. Since March 2012, the agency has been under scrutiny for poor record-keeping, inciting a Congressional Hearing to be undertaken.

“Many of these problems were caused because DFAS does not store verification documents,” U.S. Rep Todd Platts was reported to have said in the transcript of the hearing. “Due to an inability to match payroll files with personnel files, it took almost six months before (the Government Accountability Office) got access to a valid population of transactions to use for its audit.”

A Reuters investigation into DFAS debauchery uncovered that the military’s budget numbers are “so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced,” resulting in trillions in US Army Finance budget deficiencies.

“DFAS also could not make accurate year-end Army financial statements because more than 16,000 financial data files had vanished from its computer system,” the report states.

Still, Reeder just wants the $4,000 late fee removed, knowing it is unlikely that his debt will be forgiven but all to aware that he has “a duty to pay it.”

Since the incident, his credit score has sunk from 800 to 650, all while he pays over $561 a month to the US Treasury Department, who remind him that he has three years to pay.

“In my case, if all I would’ve done is continue to make payments (while deployed), none of this would’ve happened,” Reeder said. “I thought they’d be understanding given my circumstances, but that is not the case. I’ve got to say, this experience has poisoned the water for me a little bit.”

To Reeder, his case is a cautionary tale to people thinking of serving in the armed forces:“In this uncertain environment, be very wary of signing any type of contract,” he said.

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