Eligible service members and veterans have less than three months to apply for Retroactive “Stop Loss” Special Pay.
The special pay was approved by Congress as part of the 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act. Service members and veterans who involuntarily served or were on “Stop Loss” from Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2009, are entitled to $500 for each month served past their contracted end-of-service, resignation or retirement date.
“This additional money, this benefit, was granted by Congress to recognize that continued service,” Lernes “Bear” Hebert, acting director of the Defense Department’s Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management office, said in a recent interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
The Pentagon announced the program Oct. 21, 2009. Those eligible must apply by Oct. 21, 2010, to receive compensation. And, survivors of service members who were under ‘Stop Loss’ orders are entitled to the benefit.
The Defense Department wants to ensure everyone eligible for the special retroactive pay is compensated, Hebert said.
“We only have three months left for individuals to apply for this benefit,” he said. “It’s time to [apply] and get their application in. Notify anyone you’ve served with, even if they have separated, even family members of separated folks to apply.”
Each service has its own criteria and specific outreach and application process. Members and veterans who qualify, or think they are eligible for the special pay must contact their individual services for eligibility requirements.
Information about the program, procedures and points of contact for each individual service can be found at www.defense.gov/stoploss
So far $111 million has been paid out to 25,000 troops and veterans affected by ‘Stop Loss,’ Hebert said. The average payout is $3,000 to $4,000 per claim, he added.
The Pentagon has about $423 million left in the program’s fund.
“Congress authorized a fairly generous number, so we’re not concerned about the money running out,” Hebert said. “We are concerned about individuals getting their applications in.”
The Pentagon and individual services have been reaching out to qualified members, veterans and beneficiaries through direct mailings, veteran services organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the media. Those efforts will be ongoing through Oct. 21, 2010, as there is much money left to be claimed, Hebert said.
“The services have been doing tremendous outreach trying to get to all the eligibles,” he said.
Initially there was a large response for claims under the program, Hebert said, but applications have since slowed down.
“Applications have tailed off,” he said. “We suspect that some individuals are either engaged or busy or haven’t taken the time to apply. Part of our continuing efforts is to remind them that they only have about three months left to get their application in.”
Still, Hebert said he expects a surge of claims as the deadline nears. He urges those who are eligible for the retroactive pay to take advantage of it now.
“Congress authorized this for a one-year period,” he said, noting it would require Congress to pass a new law in order to extend the program. “This is firm, so individuals out there who think they might be entitled to this benefit need to get their application in.”
An estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries are entitled for the retroactive pay.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates maintains the authority to extend military service during a period of national emergency, an authority that dates back to 1983. Many of these “Stop Loss” troops were extended involuntarily in order for their units to preserve manpower and readiness in critical skill areas, Hebert said.
“The department uses it sparingly and only when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “It’s contrary to the way we operate the all-volunteer force, but it’s necessary in times when you have very high demands … where you don’t have a significant number of individuals with particular skills that you might need during a national emergency.
“It allows the department a bit of breathing room in order to re-establish additional personnel in those specialties,” he added.
The Army is the only service with currently-serving troops affected by the ‘Stop Loss’ authority. But the Army is on track to have all involuntary service ended by March next year, Hebert said.
“[‘Stop Loss’] is a mechanism of last resort for maintaining forces during a national emergency, so while the authority for ‘Stop Loss’ will still exist, the secretary has made it very clear … he wants the services not to use ‘Stop Loss’ at the current time,” he said.