The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act established Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay, providing $500 for each month/partial month served in stop loss status. Service members, veterans and beneficiaries of servicemembers whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 are eligible for RSLSP.
To receive the benefit, those who served under stop loss must submit a claim for the special pay. There is still money left to be claimed. The average benefit is about $3,700.
Recently, Lernes J. Hebert, acting director, Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and U.S. Army Major Roy Whitley, project manager for the Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay, participated in a group interview with the DoD Bloggers Roundtable to discuss this program. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Moderator: Mr. Hebert, if you’d like to start with an opening statement, and then we’ll go to questions. And, of course, Major Whitley, if you want to add anything too, be my guest. So, sir, the floor is yours. Please go ahead.
MR. HEBERT: Thank you very much. Well, first, I want to thank all of you for joining us today. This is a very important program for the department. We’ve been advertising the availability of this retroactive stop-loss pay for military members who served between September 11th, 2001 and September 30th, 2009 for a number of months now.But as we approach the October 21st deadline for getting applications in, the department is going on a full-court press to try and make sure we can get the word out. And to the extent that you find this is a worthy effort, we’ll ask you to ask your followers to tweet, buzz, e-mail or post on this topic to get the word out to anyone who is affiliated with the department. You know, as you may well know, many individuals were asked to stay beyond their initial separation date or retirement date. And in recognition of that service, Congress and the department have in place a statute which authorizes them $500 a month for every month or partial month that they served on active duty in this status. That being said, the department is not treating this as a marathon as we approach the October 21st date. It’s more of a sprint, and — but it’s — in traditional military fashion, it’s a unit sprint. And that means that we’re not successful until we get every member across that line. Every member who wants — who is eligible and wants to apply for this should have that opportunity to do so. But they can only do that if they know about it. And our efforts today and throughout this entire period have been to get the word out through every means possible to those military members, veterans and their families.
In closing, I’d like to let you know that we have all of the information that we’re going to talk about today posted out on www.defense.gov/stoploss, a special website. It has all the links to the service websites. I went and checked it again today. There is a plethora of information out there about how to apply and when to apply, whether or not you’re eligible. But the key point that we’d like you to communicate to your — to your readers is that if there’s any question in their mind as to whether or not they’re eligible, go ahead and apply. Most of the individuals who have gone through the process tell us that it takes no more than about half an hour to complete, and that’s — with many of the average payouts being between $3(,000) and 4,000, that’s a pretty good return on investment.
So that being said, Roy?
MAJ. WHITLEY: Yeah, I just had a few words, because I know the most important part is the — are the questions for you folks. This is for the Army our third Blogger(s) Roundtable, and I’m thrilled to death that we’re here, you know, in the fourth quarter. And the Army is very aware that we’re in the fourth quarter; we know what that means. So we kicked off a lot of initiatives. I’m sure you want to ask about them. A lot of your folks are hearing about them — posters and our quick-claim process.
And just thrilled to death to give you the update. Thanks for having me again.
Q: About how many service members do you believe are eligible for this? And other than getting the word out to all of them, what is the biggest challenge that the program is facing?
MR. HEBERT: Well, the — to answer your last question first, the biggest challenge is just, as you indicated, getting the word out. We find that many people, once they’re aware of the program, see the inherent value in filling out a simple form and receiving a check fairly shortly afterwards. You know, most of these applications are, on average, taking between two and four weeks to process. That’s a pretty quick turnaround for most organizations, and we’re striving to drive that down towards the two-week part As far as in — the number of eligibles, we don’t have specific numbers, because each service — populations varied over time, and so — and also, Congress passed a law that further restricted that eligibility last year to those individuals who had subsequently voluntarily extended their enlistment and received a bonus. So to answer your question directly, we believe that there’s roughly 145,000 eligible members, but again, that’s a rough estimate, and it really depends on each individual case. What we want to reassure individuals is that they don’t have to make the decision whether or not they’re eligible; they just need to go to the website, fill out the form and apply, and we’ll get them in touch with the right experts to ensure that if they’re entitled to this money, that they receive it as quickly as possible.
Q: How many service members are you still trying to reach? For example, I know the Army estimated that there were 120,000 people eligible for this pay. Service-wide, how many do you still need to reach? And can you provide us a breakdown by service?
MR. HEBERT: Well, as I indicated, the exact breakdown wouldn’t be possible. But I will tell you we’re trying to reach every eligible member who hasn’t applied. Thus far, we’ve processed over 30,000 applications, and so we’re still in a sprint, as I said, to try and reach the rest of the population.
Q Thank you. In the past, OSD has been able to say how many people were eligible. And even after the language was added about the bonus, they said, well, that affects about 10 percent. So 30,000, and you have at least 120,000 for the — for the Army, that means you’ve got three-quarters of the people you’re still trying to reach with three months left. What has been the — you know, what is the biggest challenge? And how are you going to meet that?
MAJ. WHITLEY: I knew this question was coming, so I’m ready for it. The answer is, you knew about the 120,000; that was the folks on the Army’s list going back a number of years. What we had done and we tracked quarterly in our reviews was who was applying from that known list. That’s what we called it: The known list.
Mid-year review, I knew what that status was, and we identified 80,000 folks that we had to contact. So in the third quarter, we did an address hunt and location exercise, and we are finalizing it. In about four days, the last of 36,000 mailers will go out. We’ve already got 50,000 out there now, and we’ve heard back from 40 percent of all the folks we sent out, and we know it’s arriving at 97 percent of the addresses, based on the returns.
So when the Army’s finished with this, which is actually going to be in about 10 days, we will make an attempt to identify, locate and contact the better part of 120,000 folks.
Q: I have two questions, if you don’t mind. First, as a former Guard spouse — we were Minnesota Guard, so there were a lot of people who were extended during that — the surge. Is there a special provision for Guard members? I’m on your website right now, and I’m seeing that the Air Force has e-mail active and e-mail Guard reserve. Should Guard people be going straight to the regular e-mail if they’re Army? Or should they be going to someone there at their armory? Or should they strictly go through this website?
MAJ. WHITLEY: Actually, they need to go to our website. We have component representatives in my office. We have a (superior ?) officer; that’s me. We have a company-grade officer, which is for the Guard. We have a CW5, chief warrant five. For the reserve component, right out of HRC, human resource command. And we have a sergeant major that helps with the active component, and she is also — she has reserve experience.
Q Great. Great. Because I know a lot of them are, you know — after the last deployment just sort of — they got out, and might be harder to find.
MAJ. WHITLEY: Oh, not the Guard, though. The Guard is very particular — one-year enlistments, extensions, six-plus-twos, six-by- twos — they’re very unique. And that’s why we insisted on having a compo rep in our office from the very beginning.
MAJ. WHITLEY: And I know there’s a lot of phone calls that our captain has been making directly to Guardsmen and to units. We even track it by state, and we contact the states that we think are under- represented based on the number of Guard soldiers of — in that population. We know that certain states are doing very novel things. One state has done a — in six months, they put out a postcard to every Guardsman; another state they put a team together — it was Wisconsin, actually — that are vetting all packets before they come to us. So they’re having a lot of success in some of the states.
Q That’s great to hear. My second question is, as a spouse, if you think your spouse may be eligible, I know that your website says “beneficiaries”; I’m assuming that is for the lost. Is there anything a spouse can do besides nag? (Laughs.)
MR. HEBERT: Well, you bring up a good point. I don’t know if other spouses are like mine, but she has a “honey do” list for me that’s quite extensive. And, you know, you just simply push it to the top of the list. And the key is reminding them that that October 21st date is creeping up on us, and so the sooner they can get their application in, the sooner they get the money back in their pockets. Q Okay. I’ll send out the nag alert. Thank you very much.
Q: Question is — again, refers to spouses. Is there any way for a spouse of a soldier, airman, sailor, whatever — who was stop-lossed who has since died to apply for this money?
MAJ. WHITLEY: Yes. On all the services’ websites, I believe — I certainly know mine — we have an entry that is — has the — you know, what condition. And we have many. We know that going into the program there were just around a few that HRC took care of and we had no visibility of. Every week, we get claims in from surviving family members. And we take care of those one-on-one, and we do as much as the record says we can, and they go to the top of the list.
So if you want priority, it’s first in, first out, unless it’s a surviving family member. And I have a casefinder assigned just for the deceased cases. And that goes for the folks that passed away after they exit the service. We treat them all the same. If you’re a family member — because you’re at a disadvantage. You don’t understand the records. You don’t understand the process. You don’t know what the (ALIRAD ?) is. You don’t know the regs. That’s really our job. So there is no surviving family member that does not get taken care of immediately.
Q: Could you talk about the difficulty in reaching some of these folks, particularly since many of them are now out of the service? Sorry, you detailed some of your efforts in trying to go to Guard bureaus and so forth. But what about the folks who’ve moved or moved from their last home of record that the service knew of? What’s — talk about the challenges trying to get ahold of those people. And what steps have you taken to try to overcome that difficulty?
MR. HEBERT: Sure. Naturally, the items like the Bloggers Roundtable, the PA announcement, Twitter, Facebook, direct mailings, Federal Register. We’ve — using DFAS notifying. We’re working with the VA, with the various service associations and component associations. We’ve put the word out to recruiting stations.
Bottom line is, we have a very extended military family, as you — as you well know from personal experience.
And so getting the word out through this extended military family to tell a friend is our means of getting to those individuals who are even remotely as — located, and not normally contacting the military installations or organizations.
Q Okay. And I wanted to ask you also, you mentioned earlier the step that Congress took to restrict this program somewhat last year. Could you please detail that?
MR. HEBERT: Sure. Basically, it was to — it restricted it to those individuals who voluntarily reenlisted or withdrew their retirement and subsequently received a bonus, so that they wouldn’t — you’re not eligible if you received the bonus and you’re drawing — in other words, you took a voluntary action. You’re no longer serving involuntary. However, there may be an — a portion of that time that you did serve involuntarily. And under this program, we simply want individuals to apply so that the experts can pore through their records and determine exactly what they’re entitled to.
Moderator: At this time what I’m going to do is I’m going to turn it back over to Mr. Hebert and Major Whitley for any final thoughts. We’re going to be drawing close to today’s roundtable, but I know a number of you are probably going to have follow-on questions, so at that time, if you want to forward them to me and I’ll make sure I send them to both — (inaudible). So, Mr. Hebert, if you’d like to start first, and then I’ll turn it over to Major Whitley.
MR. HEBERT: Sure. Thank you very much. Well, first and foremost, again, thank you all for joining us today. As I indicated, this is very important to us. We are trying through whatever means possible to get the word out to the eligible population. We want every eligible member who — or even members who
simply believe they might be eligible — to submit their application. Again, they just have to have it postmarked by October 21st. It’s a fairly straightforward process, about a half an hour of their time. And that being said, we’re going to continue to do everything we can on this end to get the word out. Again, it’s www.defense.gov/stoploss. And if you don’t mind including that link in your post, we’d greatly appreciate it, and asking your followers to tell a friend.
MAJ. WHITLEY: Yeah. Thanks for having me also. I always look forward to these sessions, because I know it’s complicated and it’s hard reaching all the folks.
We want you guys to help us remind folks. I know we have a survey in our quick-claims process, that we ask three questions: Did you know about us before? Was it easy? And did you tell a friend? And the answer we’re getting back is they’re all telling friends, they’re getting the word out. And it’s important that they get their claim in. So pass the word.