Pentagon says bomb squad members mistakenly given hazardous pay bump don't have to repay it

FOX 5's Alexandra Limon reports.

- Last year, hazardous duty pay was taken away from members of the Pentagon bomb squad and these employees ended up facing massive debt after being told they had to pay the money back. But now, there is some good news for these members.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said that after the completion of the normal waiver of debt process, Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) determined the bomb squad members will not have to repay years’ worth of hazardous duty pay they received in error and 100 percent of the debt they were facing has been waived.

This all started when these employees received a 25 percent hazardous duty pay bump that was in writing in both the job posting and their offer letters. Lt. Col. Eric D. Badger of the United States Air Force said in a statement that the hazardous pay "was an administrative error made in good faith, but with severe financial consequences for the employees. The pay was incorrectly authorized through no fault of the employees involved."

Last month, members of the bomb squad told FOX 5 one of their co-workers and one of the most veteran members of the team committed suicide in which they believed was in part over the pay dispute and the looming debt. Axel Fernandez was a father of two who was facing to repay about $138,000.

However, after speaking with some members of that bomb squad, they said while they are relieved, they are still unhappy. On Thursday, one member of the bomb squad sent FOX 5 this statement on the condition of anonymity saying:

"All we did was accept a job which we thought with a salary increase would help improve ours and our families lives. Instead we had our salary unceremoniously cut and absolutely nothing done to remedy it.  How would they feel if that was done to them? The loss of our teammate is unforgivable. WHS should be investigated over this."

Over the last month since we first reported this story, bomb squad members have told us they would have never accepted the job or left their old positions if they knew they would not be receiving the hazardous duty pay, which was taken away in January 2015.

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