Updated: 5:30 p.m.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense ordered the Pentagon Wednesday morning to stop requiring members of the California National Guard to pay back bonuses they received when they enlisted to serve in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The order by Defense Secretary Ash Carter comes in the wake of angry reactions from members of Congress who demanded he relieve the burden on Guard members. As many as 6,500 California National Guard soldiers were asked to repay the enlistment bonuses, and news reports indicate some debts totaled more than $25,000.
But attorney Daniel Willman says he'll continue to represent California National Guard member Bryan Strother despite Carter's order. Strother filed a class-action lawsuit over the collections last February.
"I'm planning to just go. Until it's set in stone, we're going to roll," Willman said. "We're just going to go forward and be ready to go forward with this case in January. I pray to God that they do take care of these people before then. That would be wonderful."
National Guard officials said "bad actors" working in its ranks misled soldiers to re-enlist with outsized bonuses. Guard officials say soldiers can appeal the "clawbacks."
The Associated Press reports Carter's announcement "doesn't end the reimbursement process, but postpones collection efforts while the Pentagon and Congress look for a long-term solution."
More from the Associated Press:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama was pleased with the decision, but said it was important for the Pentagon "to follow through" by finding a long-term solution. Obama had warned the Defense Department earlier this week not to "nickel and dime" service members who were victims of wrongdoing by overzealous recruiters.
In a statement issued during a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, Carter said efforts to collect reimbursement from Guard members should stop "as soon as is practical." Carter said he has ordered the department to set up a streamlined process by Jan. 1 to help troops get relief from the repayment obligation, because the current program has moved too slowly.
"This process has dragged on too long, for too many service members," Carter said. "Too many cases have languished without action. That's unfair to service members and to taxpayers."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised the suspension of clawbacks in a written statement.
"Secretary Carter’s decision to order the Defense Department to suspend its clawback of Californians’ decade-old enlistment bonuses is welcome news," Pelosi's statement said. "However, we must work to permanently lift the shadow of these clawbacks and address the burden on those who have already been forced to return bonuses they accepted in good faith."
Peninsula Congresswoman Jackie Speier is on the House Armed Services Committee, and she says Carter did the right thing.
"We need to put this issue to bed," Speier said. "And by ceasing to actually continue the repayment program, we’re one step close to doing that."
John Sepulvado and the Associated Press contributed to this report.