By Tom Philpott: Military Update
Let’s go on a scavenger hunt!
The object is to find one (or more) of 89,836 service members, many of them now veterans, who were forced to stay on active duty under “stop loss” orders, for days or months beyond projected separation or retirement dates, sometime from Sept. 11, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2009.
They might be a family member, a friend, a fellow employee, or your mailman. But if you find one before Oct. 21 the prize will be their gratitude because the government is ready to pay them, on average, $3500. The precise payment formula is $500 for every month or partial month they were kept on active duty involuntarily after 9/11 to ensure force readiness during some difficult times for the nation and their service.
Hint: Only the Army used “stop loss” authority beyond 2003. Indeed, it still uses stop-loss to keep some soldiers beyond their period of obligated service. Current stop-loss pay comes from a different pot, and use of stop-loss even by the Army is sent to end by next March.
Congress ordered the Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay program established last fall but it allowed only a one-year window for eligible veterans and service members to claim their payments. With six weeks remaining, 38 percent have done so. That leaves $320 million on the table, and the likelihood a lot of it will be returned to the U.S. Treasury or spent on lesser priorities, if deserving veterans aren’t told about the cash by Oct. 21.
Retroactive stop loss pay might not even be taxable if it was earned while the member was serving in Iraq, Afghanistan or another designated Combat Zone Tax Exclusion area. That would be verified by Defense Finance and Accounting Service, said Hebert.
Some members while in stop loss status changed their minds about leaving and reenlisted. If they did, or were paid bonus money, they will only be eligible for the $500 for months or partial months of stop loss before electing to reenlist. If not sure money is due, file a claim by the deadline.
All four DoD branches of service used stop-loss orders after 9/11. The Navy used it sparingly, on only 250 sailors. Of those, only 33 have filed claims so far. The Marine Corps’ pool of eligible veterans or current service members is 8,892, yet only 3040 have applied for payment. The Air Force has processed 3500 claims out of 16,000 eligible. The Army has processed more than 49,000 claims out of an eligible population of 120,267.
All the services are reaching out to potential claimants, urging them to apply. The Army has conducted several direct mailings to try to reach former and retired soldiers, even chasing down addresses changes or contacting next of kin, when possible, to ensure the word gets out.
From last October on the first to file were service members still on active duty or those who had been kept on active duty for many months. Since then, the average payment has gotten smaller with slower applicants, on average, having served less time in stop loss status.
Readers who succeed at this “scavenger hunt” are encouraged to share with us how the good news reached a veteran or how the “found” money will be spent, a belated gift for having served longer than planned.