What Is Military Stop-Loss?

An Explanation and History of Military Stop-Loss Policy

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In military terms, "stop-loss" means not letting a military member separate or retire once their required term of service is complete.

When anyone joins any branch of the United States Military for the first time, they incur a minimum eight-year total service obligation (some special jobs, such as pilot, can incur even longer service obligations). Whatever time is not spent on active duty or in the active Guard/Reserves must be spent in the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR).

Members of the IRR don't drill, nor do they receive any pay, but they are subject to recall to active duty at any time during their time in the IRR.

For example, if someone joins the Army under a two-year enlistment, and then gets out, he or she is subject to recall to active duty for another six years. If someone joins the Air Force for four years and then separates, he or she can be recalled to active duty for four more years.

This is spelled out in paragraph 10a of the enlistment contract, which states:

If this is my initial enlistment, I must serve a total of eight (8) years. Any part of that service not served on active duty must be served in a Reserve Component, unless I am sooner discharged.

    This is not considered stop-loss, though it is often assumed to be. This is part of the President's Reserve Call-Up Authority.

    Stop-Loss

    Stop-loss is the extension of a military person's term in the Guard, Reserves or active duty beyond what their normal separation date.

    Those who join the military agree to this provision under paragraph 9c of the enlistment contract:

    In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six (6) months after the war ends, unless my enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.

    That is the basis of stop-loss.

    The Department of Defense maintains that the term "war" means anytime America's Armed Forces are engaged in hostile conflict, not only when war is declared by Congress. The stop-loss policy has been legally challenged, but federal courts have consistently found that service members' terms of service may be involuntarily extended under their military contract.

    History of Military Stop-LossĀ 

    Congress first gave stop-loss authority to the Department of Defense right after the draft ended. However, the military did not use the authority until the 1990/1991 Gulf War, when President George H. W. Bush imposed stop-loss on the military during the Gulf War. This stop-loss was later revised to include only those deployed and individuals in certain critical job skills.

    President Clinton imposed stop-loss at the beginning of the Bosnia deployment and during the Kosovo Air Campaign. Stop-loss was also imposed for a brief period following the 9/11 attacks, and then again in 2002 and 2003.

    Current Stop-Loss Policy

    The current stop-loss program only affects members of the active duty Army, the Army Reserves and the Army National Guard, and it only affects individuals who are either deployed or have been officially notified that they are scheduled for deployment.

    Such members are prevented from separating or retiring from the point of deployment notification and up to 90 days following return from deployment.

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