Newspaper Editorial: Legislators – Compensate Troops

South Jersey Local News

July 16, 2008 – Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Betty Sutton (D-OH) were joined by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D – IL) and Congressman Walter Jones (RNC) to call on Congress to compensate troops affected by “stop loss,” a policy that involuntarily extends military service beyond an enlistment contract.Colby Buzzell, a veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom who was stop-lossed; leadership of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States and Veterans for America; and Kimberley Peirce, writer/director of the nationally-released feature film “Stop Loss” also voiced their support.

Senator Lautenberg and Congresswoman Sutton have introduced a bill, the Stop-Loss Compensation Act in the Senate and House (S. 3060 and H.R. 6205), which would require the Pentagon to pay affected troops an additional $1,500 for each month their service is extended.

“After months and years of risking their lives, our troops are too often being told they cannot return home to their families as scheduled,” Senator Lautenberg said. “The military made a deal with our men and women in uniform-and if our troops are required to serve longer than that commitment, that sacrifice should be rewarded.”

“Since introducing this bill, soldiers have written to tell me about the negative impacts stop loss has had on their lives and the lives of their families. While stop-loss may provide a temporary fix for maintaining troop levels, the lasting result of abusing this policy will be to deter young men and women from joining the Armed Forces,” Congresswoman Sutton said. “We have already asked our soldiers to sacrifice so much for their country, and they have honored that commitment with bravery and dignity. Now too many of them are being forced to go back. Compensating our troops for this continued sacrifice is the least we can do.”

“The stop-loss policy not only undermines the voluntary nature of our armed forces, but it also hurts the morale of our troops by unexpectedly prolonging their service” Schakowsky said. “Instead of turning its attention to providing incentives for recruitment, the Bush Administration continues to utilize a stop-loss policy, forcing those who have already completed the terms of their enlistment to return to the front lines. This legislation represents a small token of our appreciation for the troops who have been forced to return to Iraq because of the poor decisions and lack of planning by the Bush Administration.”

“The persistent use of stop loss authority violates the spirit of an all-volunteer force and imposes a significant burden on our troops and their families. I have personally spoken to service members who have lost limbs after their service was extended,” Congressman Jones said. “By requiring additional monthly pay for U.S. service members whose service on active duty is extended by a stop loss order, this legislation would ensure that additional service and sacrifice do not go unrewarded. It is also my hope that the Stop Loss Compensation Act would serve as an incentive for the Department of Defense to discontinue its reliance on stop loss.”

“Stop loss is a beautiful way to destroy troop moral and lower military recruitment and retention,” Colby Buzzell said. “I’ve seen the effects of involuntarily extending soldiers’ service and I feel that the stop loss compensation act is the least we can do to support our troops, both those currently serving, as well as those who already have sacrificed for our country.”

“Hundreds of thousands in the Guard and Reserve have set aside their families and lives and taken up arms to defend their country in the war on terror. Compensating our service members for this selfless but non-contracted service is appropriate and necessary-these men and women deserve no less for their extraordinary sacrifice,” Frank Yoakum of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States said.

“Of all the abuses borne by our service members since the beginning of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, excessive reliance on stop-loss is one of the most egregious. Involuntary service negates the promise of our all-volunteer military. By forcing tens of thousands of troops to stay in the military, we have broken the contract that our service members willing entered into with their country,” Bobby Muller of Veterans for America said. “Senator Lautenberg’s and Congresswoman Sutton’s bill are important steps toward recognizing the incredible sacrifice that stop-loss creates.”

“While researching and screening our film STOP-LOSS, patriotic soldiers and family members said they were proud to have fought for and defended our country and, having completed their contractual terms of service, felt they had earned the right to move on with their lives. These soldiers claim stop-loss amounts to ‘recycling the soldiers who served and should be getting out’ and a violation of the promise of the volunteer army they signed up for,” Peirce said. “I have observed some of the real costs of stop loss: fathers who hadn’t met their newborn children, soldiers who suffered psychologically and physically and soldiers who did not survive these extra tours.”

The Stop Loss Compensation Act would apply both to service members who are forced to continue service after their enlistment is up and after their eligibility for retirement has been extended. The bill also includes a provision that would be retroactive to October 2001 to compensate any service member who has been stop-lossed since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army’s stop loss policy can keep a soldier in service if his or her unit deploys within 90 days of the end of the soldier’s commitment. However, soldiers are not currently compensated for that extra commitment. On average, soldiers affected by stop loss now serve an extra 6.6 months.

Stop loss often takes members of the National Guard away from their civilian jobs and educational pursuits, and away from their posts in border security. This lack of available National Guard leaves the nation more vulnerable during national emergencies, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

Many of the soldiers who are deployed for multiple tours suffer from mental trauma following their service which has contributed to skyrocketing rates of divorce and combat stress. Suicide rates are up, with the Pentagon reporting that some 20 percent more troops committed suicide in 2007 than in 2006.

Divorce rates, which have been escalating since 2003, remain at about 3.3 percent, up from 2.9 percent before the start of the war.

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