Stop loss claim deadline approaching

By Terri Moon Cronk: American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — People whose military service was involuntarily extended or whose retirement was suspended between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009, have until March 4 to file for retroactive payments of $500 for each month of their extended service under the “stop loss” policy.

The deadline ends the second extension for eligible people to apply to receive the retroactive pay.

“This is a timely payment for services already rendered,” said Lernes “Bear” Hebert, the Defense Department’s director of officer and enlisted personnel management. “It’s a no-strings-attached program — one where they fill out a simple form and attach a few documents (to show) their service.”

Each service branch will work with potential applicants to determine eligibility, he added.

The program also applies to beneficiaries who lost loved ones in the ultimate sacrifice during their service, Hebert said.

Applying through the Internet or by mail is easy, and usually takes less than 30 minutes, Hebert said, adding that once eligibility is established, the money “just shows up in your bank account.”

“There’s nothing more to it,” he said. “You probably won’t hear from the military again unless you initiate contact.”

Applications sent via computer or postmarked by March 4 for delivery by mail will have met the deadline, Hebert said.

“This unique program for stop loss special pay is to recognize servicemen and women and the sacrifices they made to their country without hesitation,” Hebert said.

An estimated 145,000 people are eligible for the special pay, Defense Department officials said, noting that 77,000 claims have been paid. Other applications are being processed, and officials strongly recommend that all potential applicants apply before the March 4 deadline, even those who received a bonus for voluntarily re-enlisting and those who think they’re not eligible because they extended their service.

“The program is to make sure service members receive the recognition that the nation appreciates their service, and for serving beyond their initial contract,” Hebert said.

An outpouring of support for service members to receive money they’re due has come from the government and the community — from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other senior military leaders, to veterans organizations and others trying to reach those who likely are eligible, Hebert said.

“The services have done a tremendous job at getting the word out,” he said.

“In all my years of service, I’ve never seen a program in both the government and (veterans service organization) communities that’s been such a tremendous effort,” Hebert said, adding that he has received many notes of gratitude from those who’ve received their stop loss pay.

Hebert asks service members to spread the word to others who have served, and beneficiaries, to make sure no one is left out before the March 4 deadline.

“We don’t want people to wake up March 5 and decide that’s the day they plan to apply,” he said.