Army dentist at Landstuhl tangled in red tape over resignation
July 12, 2009
Army Capt. Tina Mahuika finds herself in a rat’s nest of red tape.
Depending on which Army explanation you consider, the dentist with Landstuhl’s 464th Medical Company can’t get out of the Army because her unit is stop-lossed or because she took a $12,000 bonus to stay in the Army through Sunday. Or both.
A 2007 request to leave the Army went nowhere. Mahuika’s second resignation request was denied, even though she has the support of several high-ranking officers. A third request is pending.
The captain’s plight shows the pitfalls of stop loss, an unpopular practice that allows the Defense Department to keep servicemembers beyond their separation date so they can deploy with their units to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Critics have called stop loss a "backdoor draft" because it forces troops who would otherwise be able to leave the military to deploy. All military services used stop loss in the run-up to the Iraq war, but the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force stopped using it in 2003. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for minimizing its use in January 2007 and announced in March of this year that the Army would stop the practice in all but extreme cases by March 2011.
As of May 31, there were 11,003 soldiers on stop loss, according to the latest Army figures.
Theoretically, Mahuika should have been able to resign in July 2008, but she was stop-lossed in January 2008 because her unit was deploying to Iraq in May 2008.
She’s been trying to straighten out this mess ever since.
Because she wasn’t going to be able to leave the Army when she wanted, Mahuika decided to accept a $12,000 bonus to remain with the service for another year. And since her unit was stop-lossed, Mahuika believed she was entitled to the $500 monthly pay Congress authorized for stop-lossed soldiers.
In a June 18 e-mail, the captain was told she’s not technically stop-lossed beyond July 12, which is the one-year date of her accepting the bonus money. However, an e-mail only a week later from the Europe Regional Medical Command states Mahuika is stop-lossed until late September.
Mahuika describes the process as a "total nightmare" that has caused her to become disenchanted with the military.
"I have just got to get away," she said. "It’s crazy. I can’t believe so many people are allowed to be in positions where, quite honestly, they’re not competent."
However, there now appears to be hints of hope: Her third resignation request is being processed, according to the Army’s Human Resources Command, and a Congressional inquiry was initiated this week over the matter, Mahuika said.
The Army’s Human Resources Command has final say in the matter.
Europe Regional Medical Command, the top Army medical command in Europe, forwarded Mahuika’s latest resignation request to the Human Resources Command "with command emphasis" in late June, said Steve Davis, an ERMC spokesman. "Command emphasis" means that ERMC is requesting the matter be resolved as quickly as possible, Davis said.
Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, a Human Resources Command spokesman, said he did not know how long it would be before a decision is made.
Just getting to this point has been an ordeal for Mahuika.
While a dental student in 2002, Mahuika signed a contract for the Army to cover her three years of dental school bills in exchange for three years of service. Graduating dental school in 2005, Mahuika could get out of the Army in July 2008.
She drafted her first resignation in August 2007, requesting that she be discharged in July 2008. But that resignation request was lost, Mahuika said.
In December 2007, Mahuika was informed she would be stop-lossed for a 15-month deployment to Iraq set to begin in May 2008, she said.
In January 2008, she asked to be removed from stop-loss status, in part, because as a single parent she had few resources for the long-term care of her then-8-year-old son, according to Army documents. Her company commander, Lt. Col. Mark Gleisner, denied the request, according to an Army document dated Jan. 24, 2008.
Mahuika and the rest of the 464th Medical Company then deployed to Iraq in May 2008. But the captain was allowed to return to Germany in November because of a family issue involving a child custody matter with her ex-husband.
The following month, she submitted a second resignation request, looking to get out of the Army in April 2009. She offered to pay back a portion of her bonus money if she could leave early.
Her company, battalion and brigade commanders supported Mahuika’s request.
"[Mahuika] is completely willing to pay back the monetary difference to release her from the contract," reads a Feb. 10, 2009, e-mail from Gleisner to Human Resources Command. "Additionally, the Landstuhl clinic where she works is overstaffed.
"It is in the best interest of the Soldier and the U.S. Army to release her from Active Duty without further delay."
But that request was denied by Human Resources Command on March 31, 2009, for two reasons: one, she needed to fulfill her contract obligating her to serve through mid-July; and two, her unit was stop-lossed.
In the written denial, Human Resources Command told Mahuika she could resubmit her resignation request making her separation date July 12 provided she was taken off stop-loss status and her date of return from overseas matched her separation date.
She immediately revised the request.
All she can do now is wait.
"I have a million papers talking about my stop loss, and it’s actually slowed down the process of me trying to resign because people get confused with what I’m asking," Mahuika said.
"It’s not a cookie-cutter case. It all just makes you want to scream."