By Rick Rogers
Free money might never have been so hard to give away.
That’s what the Defense Department is discovering as it pleads for service members involuntarily held on duty under stop-loss orders between Sept. 10, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2008, to step forward to claim $500 a month.
President Barack Obama and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen have made personal appeals this month for people to come forward for their money, the average payout of which is $3,700.
“We’ve used all kinds of different ways to reach out to people and let them know,” Mullen said on a Defense Department website. “I’m asking everyone who reads this blog to pass it on to anyone else you think needs to see it. … The application process is simple and straightforward. No strings attached. But once the deadline passes, we cannot by law extend it.
“It’s your money,” Mullen said.
The deadline for submitting for the benefit has been extended yet again, this time to April 8. The extensions won’t last forever.
Not only is it “free” money, it’s tax-free money if the service member was stationed in a combat or other tax-free zone.
Next of kin may apply for the money if their service member died while held on duty under stop-loss, a move by the Defense Department to keep men and women in uniform at a time of national need.
The program that was signed into law in June 2009 provides $534.4 million for retroactive stop-loss special pay for eligible active National Guard, reserve, retired and former service members.
So far, only a fraction of the estimated 145,000 people eligible have submitted claims, meaning that about tens of millions dollars are going begging.
If there is a catch, it’s this: In order to qualify, the characterization of the service member’s discharge —- if there is one —- must be better than under other-than-honorable conditions.
All military branches used stop-loss orders after Sept. 11, 2001, but not to the same degree.
— The Navy used it with only 250 sailors.
— The Marine Corps’ number of eligible veterans is 8,892.
— The Air Force has about 16,000 people eligible.
— The Army has an eligible population of 120,267.
Of the more than 120,000 soldiers affected by stop-loss, 61,500 were in the active Army, 43,600 were in the Army National Guard and 15,200 were in the Army Reserve. Roughly 97 percent of all soldiers falling under stop-loss orders were sergeants and below, according to the Army.
There is no service commitment or recall requirement associated with the money, since the pay is for service already rendered.
If applicants don’t have all the documents needed to complete the form, they should file it anyway and allow program staff to help complete it later. Visit here.