Stop-loss, in the United States military, is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date. It also applies to the cessation of a permanent change of station (PCS) move for a member still in military service. Stop-loss was used immediately before and during the first Persian Gulf War. Since then, it has been used during American military deployments to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s and in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The policy has been legally challenged several times, however federal courts have consistently found that military service members contractually agree that their term of service may be involuntarily extended.
Legal basisStop-loss was created by the United States Congress after the Vietnam War. Its use is founded on Title 10, United States Code, Section 12305(a) which states in part: "... the President may suspend any provision of law relating to promotion, retirement, or separation applicable to any member of the armed forces who the President determines is essential to the national security of the United States" and Paragraph 9(c) of DD Form 4/1 (The Armed Forces Enlistment Contract) which states: "In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six (6) months after the war ends, unless the enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States."
Every person who enlists in a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces signs an initial contract with an eight (8) year service obligation. The enlistment contract for a person going on active duty generally stipulates an initial period of active duty from 2 to 4 years, followed by service in a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States for the remainder of the eight year obligation. Service members whose ETS, retirement, or end of service obligation date falls during a deployment are generally involuntarily extended until the end of their unit's deployment.
ControversyThe controversy regarding stop-loss focuses mainly on the aspect involving "involuntary extension" of a service member's initial active duty service obligation. For service members opposed to involuntary extension, it represents implementation of a desultory clause in their contract which alters their expectation of an end of term of service date. It also exposes them to the risk of an additional or prolonged combat deployment. For opponents of a current armed conflict, the public perception of "involuntary extension" is contrary to the notion of voluntary service and undermines popular support for the conflict.
In a campaign speech in 2004, former presidential candidate John Kerry described stop-loss as a "backdoor draft." The use of stop-loss has been criticized by activists and some politicians as an abuse of the spirit of the law, on the basis that Congress has not declared war, such as is the case in the Iraq War.
During August 2007, Iraq Veterans Against the War, an activist organization of former and current service members, announced a national "Stop the Stop-Loss" campaign at a press conference where they were holding a week-long vigil in a tower erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Other anti-Stop-Loss vigils have occurred in Bellingham, Washington, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
On March 10 and 11, 2008, a group of college students, supported by Code Pink and Iraq Veterans Against the War, as well as several other organizations, issued symbolic stop-loss "orders" to every member of both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate in protest of both the practice of stop-lossing and of the Iraq War. On March 12, 2008, the students "enforced" the orders by blocking off the exits to the parking garages of the Rayburn House Office Building and the Hart Senate Office Building.
Legal challengesThe first known legal challenge in American history to the involuntary extension of a soldier's enlistment contract occurred during the American Civil War, when Private Edward A. Stevens filed suit against the federal government for extending his three-month enlistment. The prosecuting party for the government was Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War. Stevens lost the suit and was confined for "mutinous conduct" for a brief period of time.
The first legal challenge to the contemporary stop-loss policy came in August 2004, with a lawsuit challenged by David Qualls, a National Guardsman in California. Qualls argued the military breached his enlistment contract by involuntarily extending his term of service. However, his arguments were rejected by Judge Royce C. Lambert and the case was dismissed. Qualls' case was not appealed.
In October 2004, a "John Doe" lawsuit was filed by an anonymous National Guardsman facing stop-loss, challenging the validity of the law that authorized it. This suit was dismissed at trial by Judge Frank C. Damrell and the court's findings were upheld by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit also rejected another similar appeal in Santiago v. Rumsfeld in May, 2005.
Government responseSecretary of Defense Robert Gates, as one of his first acts in his position, penned a memo compelling commanders to "minimize" the stop-lossing of soldiers.
The United States Army states that enlisted soldiers facing stop-loss can now voluntarily separate by request, under provision 3-12, but only after they complete an involuntary deployment of twelve to fifteen months and 90 days stabilization time (time allowed to "out-process" from the military) can they apply.
This refers to an Army policy dated Sept. 5, 2002. It allowed enlisted soldiers under stop-loss to voluntarily separate on the one-year anniversary of their original expiration of service or ETS date (under twelve-month stop-loss); officers and warrant officers, not retirement eligible, to apply to leave one year from the end of their original service obligation date; officers and warrant officers without a service obligation to request separation 12 months after they were first affected by stop-loss; and retirement-eligible soldiers to apply for retirement one year from their original retirement eligibility date (defined as 20 years active federal service) or one year from when stop-loss took effect if the soldier was retirement eligible on the effective date of stop-loss.
Despite Secretary Gates's order, by April 2008 use of stop loss had increased by 43%. Soldiers affected by stop loss were then serving, on average, an extra 6.6 months, and sergeants through sergeants first class made up 45% of these soldiers. From 2002 through April 2008, 58,300 soldiers were affected by stop loss, or about 1% of active duty, Reserve, and National Guard troops.
In the Media
A film titled Stop-Loss, released March of 2008, details the fictional story of a soldier (played by actor Ryan Phillippe) and his feelings towards the war and the stop-loss policy.