'Stop loss' bonuses go unpaid to 35,000 soldiers
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
The Army is struggling to find about 35,000 soldiers, most of them veterans now, who are owed bonuses because they were forced to remain in the military beyond their normal enlistment.
The government authorized the "special pay" in 2009 following criticism from some troops and Congress who said the "stop loss" policy that extended enlistments amounted to a "back door draft." Most of the troops fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans groups have faulted the Pentagon for not being able to locate the troops.
"In this economy, I haven't met a single stop-loss veteran who can't use this money for their family or school," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The Army has paid $245 million in bonuses for 84,000 soldiers since the law passed, said Army Maj. Roy Whitley, who is managing Army efforts to provide the special pay.
The Army has yet to pay up to $160 million to 57,000 current or former soldiers, or to families of those who have died or were killed while on stop-loss. That includes 22,000 requests that are currently under review and about 35,000 people the Army cannot yet locate.
The Army used stop-loss extensively to maintain troop levels as fighting in Iraq ramped up. Other services also used the program, but less frequently.
There are about 15,000 unpaid cases among other services, the Pentagon says. The military has ended the practice of stop-loss.
Congress passed a law in 2009 to compensate the troops with retroactive bonuses of $500 for every month served beyond enlistment. The average payout is about $3,800.
The Pentagon is barred from using the Internal Revenue Service or other government data to track the troops, IRS spokesman Eric Smith said.
Many service members are young people who may be in college or have moved from the address that the military has for them.
The law requires service members to apply for the special pay. Congress has extended a deadline for people to apply for bonuses to March 4. The Pentagon urges anyone owed money to get more information at www.defense.gov/stoploss.
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