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Army Seeks Claimants Under Retroactive Stop-Loss Special Pay Program

The 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act directed all of the military services to pay members for time served from 11 September 2001 to 30 September 2009 under the stop-loss authority contained in Title 10, section 12305, of the U.S. Code. The retroactive stop-loss special pay (RSLSP) claim period ended on 30 September 2008; another program had previously been established to pay claimants for eligible periods from 1 October 2008 to the present. Those eligible receive $500 for each month served in stop-loss status. The Army estimates that 120,000 Soldiers, veterans, and survivors qualify for RSLSP, which is by far the highest estimate from any service.

The War Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed in June 2009, stipulated that the Army should begin to accept and process RSLSP claims on 21 October 2009. This gave the Compensation and Entitlements Branch in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G−1, just 5 months to design a process for collecting, reviewing, and paying claims.

Determining Who Is Eligible

The Army faced a number of challenges before the RSLSP program officially began. The underlying issue was the very notion of stop-loss. From the Army’s perspective, stop-loss was a force management tool, not a compensation tool. That is, tracking individual stop-loss for the purpose of future compensation was not of paramount importance.

G−1 worked to establish a list of “known” stop-loss Soldiers from the prescribed period to provide an estimate for Congress and a starting point for the Army’s RSLSP program. While the “known” list proved to be reasonably accurate, it did not always provide precise information for determining the time an individual served in a stop-loss status. In response, the Army moved forward by establishing a special program management office to handle RSLSP claims.

Work at the RSLSP Program Management Office (PMO) began in earnest before the official launch date. The Army developed and launched a web-based e-file application for those eligible to submit claims and released eligibility requirements through a number of media announcements and an All Army Activities message.

According to a G−1 fact sheet, those eligible include—

Service members, including members of the Reserve components and former and retired members who, at any time between 11 September 2001 and 30 September 2008, served on active duty while their enlistment or period of obligated service was extended or whose eligibility for retirement was suspended from one of the following:

  • Contractual expiration of term of service (ETS), expiration of active service (EAS), or Reserve end of current contract (RECC); or
  • An approved separation date based on an unqualified resignation request or release from active duty (REFRAD) order; or
  • An approved retirement based on length of service.

Service members who were discharged or released from the Armed Forces under other than honorable conditions are not permitted to receive retroactive stop-loss special pay.

The PMO established a case management team to begin reviewing and processing claims for payment. A number of issues have become apparent as case managers work to reconcile personnel records with an individual’s claimed stop-loss period. Issues such as extensions, bonuses, and beneficiary status, along with other variables, complicate the adjudication process. As a result, in many instances, case managers work closely with claimants to develop and establish their stop-loss timeline.

Encouraging Claims

As the case management team worked to process claims, it became obvious that the Army faced a greater challenge than simply reviewing records. Over the first 2 months of the program, about 20,000 complete claims were filed. However, claim submissions dropped steeply over the next few months and the Army began the program’s third quarter far short of the number of claims expected. Given the low claim totals, the Army focused on identifying and notifying those eligible for the pay.

A number of obstacles complicated the process of notifying former Soldiers eligible for RSLSP. The program eligibility dates covered most of a decade, and many of those the Army needed to reach had been separated or retired for many years. The PMO developed a direct mail plan to send letters of notification to over 80,000 people on the known list directing them to apply for the special pay. To ensure the highest level of accuracy, the PMO conducted a comprehensive search to identify current addresses for all those on the known list and created an envelope and letter designed to elicit a response.

In addition to creating and sending the notifications, the PMO conceived a unique workflow to process applications through an automated web-based system known as the “quick claim” process. The chart above illustrates the impact on the number of claims of the direct mail campaign and the quick claim submission option. The quick claim process allows those receiving a letter to enter the system through a specified website to examine their stop-loss dates as provided by the Army. The claimant then can choose to accept the Army’s finding and be paid without submitting documentation or reject the Army’s determination and file a new claim. Over 40 percent of those sent notifications have filed a claim—the majority accepting the Army’s determination of their stop-loss time.

The RSLSP PMO continues to work toward identifying and notifying those eligible for RSLSP. Along with the direct mail campaign, the Army has worked closely with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and veteran and military service organizations to publicize the program. The PMO has also worked with the G−1 Public Affairs Office and Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs to establish a strong social media presence for the program. These combined efforts have generated over 55,000 claims as of August 2010. The deadline for submitting applications was 21 October 2010. However, on 30 September, President Barack Obama signed legislation extending the deadline through 3 December 2010.

The Army has taken great care to ensure that the RSLSP program is a success. The requirement from Congress is to make certain that the money appropriated for this project reaches those for whom it is intended. The PMO strives to be diligent in adjudicating claims and has gone to great lengths to identify and notify those eligible. The continued success of the RSLSP program demonstrates the Army’s dedication to Soldiers.

Robert Pidgeon is the director of communications for the Retroactive Stop-Loss Special Pay Program Management Office, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G−1. He holds a master of mass communication degree from the University of South Carolina.

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