Battleland

Don’t Take The Money And Run

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Our country loves our troops so much we’ll do anything to give them more money — like extending, yet again — for the sixth time — the government’s deadline for them to apply for bonuses if they had to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq beyond their enlistment period. You may recall the controversial “stop loss” orders issued to troops that kept them in uniform longer than expected, and disrupted school, employment and wedding plans.

But this is getting ridiculous.

The initial offer of $500 for every month, or part of a month, that a soldier had to stay in uniform because of “stop loss” was announced in October, 2009. The Pentagon told the 145,000 troops it estimated were eligible they had until Oct. 21, 2010, to apply. “Once the deadline passes, we cannot by law extend it,” warned Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last Sept. 14. But he didn’t say anything about Congress extending it.

The next day, the commander in chief weighed in. “The deadline is approaching fast,” President Obama said in a videotaped message. “If you don’t apply by Oct. 21, you’ll miss out.”

Or perhaps not. Two weeks later, Obama signed a bill, passed by Congress, that extended the deadline for the first time. “Don’t wait too long,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned in October. “The deadline to submit a claim is Dec. 3, 2010.”

On Dec. 6, three days after the second deadline, the Pentagon announced it was setting a third deadline of Dec. 18. “The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama on Dec. 4, providing funding for federal government operations through Dec. 18,” a Pentagon statement noted. The average stop-lossed troop has been pocketing nearly $4,000, from the $500 million set aside by Congress for stop-loss bonuses. Congress is apparently sensitive to the notion that “stop loss” constituted what some called a “back-door draft,” and wants to make sure every one who is eligible gets a chance to apply for the bonus bucks.

So, just in time for the holidays, the deadline was extended for a fourth time until Mar. 4. “The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama today, providing funding for federal government operations through Mar. 4, 2011,” the Pentagon said. “Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through Mar. 4, 2011.”

“There was a surge of applicants as we approached our earlier deadline,” Lernes Hebert, director, Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, said at the time. “There may still be more out there who have yet to apply.”

Then, last month, it happened again, sliding the deadline for a fifth time, until Mar. 18. “The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama yesterday, providing funding for federal government operations through Mar. 18, 2011,” the Pentagon said. “Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through Mar. 18, 2011.”

Then, on Mar. 21, the deadline for applying for “stop loss” retroactive pay was — you guessed it, extended — for a sixth time. “The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution signed by President Obama Friday, providing funding for federal government operations through April 8, 2011,” the Pentagon said. “Outreach efforts including direct mail, engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through April 8, 2011.”

Then it happened again Wednesday as the Pentagon announced a seventh deadline for troops to apply. “The deadline extension is included in Continuing Resolution H.R. 1473, signed by President Obama April 15, 2011, providing funding for federal government operations through Oct. 21, 2011,” the Pentagon said. “Outreach efforts including direct mail and engaging military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets, will continue through Oct. 21, 2011.”

And this time they really mean it.

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