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Retiree who returned to work wants Pentagon to keep its end of the bargain

Elizabeth Ann Kurzawski, center, with family at her retirement party in 2004. She was called back to work after taking a buyout.
Elizabeth Ann Kurzawski, center, with family at her retirement party in 2004. She was called back to work after taking a buyout. (Courtesy Of Kurzawski Family)
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By Joe Davidson
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Elizabeth Ann Kurzawski was duped, hoodwinked and bamboozled by the kindly Uncle Sam.

He didn't con her on purpose, but he did put the squeeze on her and about 40 other retired Defense Department employees, for $25,000 each, after they answered his call and returned to serve their country during a time of war.

To his credit, he is trying to undo the problems his bureaucracy caused, but Kurzawski and the others aren't out of Sam's trick bag yet.

For Kurzawski, a 66-year-old Reisterstown, Md., grandmother, the story began when she retired in September 2004, taking a $25,000 buyout from the Maryland National Guard.

"I absolutely loved what I did," she said of her work assisting soldiers with benefit programs. But the $25,000, a.k.a Voluntary Separation Incentive Pay, was enough of an incentive to leave federal service.

So she did.

But Sam couldn't live without her for long.

Two months later, he came a courtin', promising that she would not have to pay back the money, as is generally required, because the mobilization of so many National Guard members created a critical need for her skills.

" 'We have approval from the National Guard Bureau, Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Defense' " to waive repayment of the buyout money, she recalled her former boss saying. "He even showed me the documentation that he had approving my rehire. So on that basis I came back to work."

A March 2005 Defense Department memo to National Guard human resource officers, supplied by Kurzawski's attorney, says that "in response to a Department of Defense request, USOPM [Office of Personnel Management] waived the Voluntary Separation Incentive repayment requirements."

Kurzawski, a 40-year civil servant, then put in an additional 10 months, working part time, training others to do her job. But in August 2009, bill collectors in the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) sent a letter dunning her for $25,000, which the agency described as an "overpayment."

"Payment of this debt is due within 30 days of the date of this letter," it said.


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