'Stop loss' back pay for US troops goes unclaimed

US troops involuntarily kept in the military after 9/11 are eligible for special compensation. More than half of the $534 million in 'stop loss' funds has not been claimed – and the deadline looms.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama speaks to service members about collecting 'stop loss' pay for service after 9/11 in a video on the defense department website.
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More than half of the money set aside to compensate troops who were involuntarily kept in the military beyond the end of their service contracts during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – a practice known as “stop loss” – has yet to be claimed, according to senior US defense officials.

Stop loss was a controversial program used frequently by the Pentagon during the height of the Iraq war. Often called a “back door draft,” it allowed the US military to keep soldiers and marines on active duty in war zones. This in turn meant that soldiers often served months beyond the date that they would normally be eligible to leave the military.

Some 186,000 US troops were stop-lossed in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Pentagon officials.

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In announcing an end to stop loss last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the practice was tantamount to “breaking faith” with service members.

In an effort to track down those who are still eligible for the funds, the White House on Wednesday released a public service announcement featuring President Obama urging troops to claim the money.

In it, he raised the issue of urban myths, including that registering for stop-loss back pay is “a way to call you back into service.” Mr. Obama said, “I know there has been some skepticism.”

Pentagon officials say they have tried to reach out to eligible troops through Facebook and Twitter, as well as working with more than 95 veteran and service organizations across the country. The deadline to apply for the funds is Oct. 21, and the Defense Department is directing troops who are eligible to register at www.defense.gov/stoploss.

“Some people have asked, ‘Why don’t they just go to the IRS and get the most up-to-date addresses' ” in order to reach out to eligible soldiers? said a defense spokesperson. “Well, that’s not allowed by law.”

Troops are eligible to receive $500 for every month they were stop-lossed and, so far, the services have paid out 58,000 claims for a total of $219 million of the $534.4 million appropriated for the compensation program.

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