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WASHINGTON — Congress has extended the deadline to December for veterans to apply for retroactive stop-loss pay.

Under the program, troops who have been stop-lossed since Sept. 11, 2001, or their surviving spouses are eligible for $500 for every month they were kept beyond their initial separation date. The program was slated to end in October, but now it has been extended to Dec. 3.

The move drew praise from AMVETS spokesman Ryan Gallucci, who said, “Extending the deadline is an appropriate course of action to ensure that veterans have an opportunity to take advantage of their earned benefit.”

The extension was included in a continuing resolution approved by the House and Senate late Wednesday night. The special appropriations bill, which has to be signed by the president, funds the government at fiscal 2010 levels until Dec. 3, and was needed because lawmakers failed to pass their fiscal 2011 budget bills before leaving this week for their pre-election recess. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Extending the deadline beyond Dec. 3 would require action by Congress after it reconvenes in November, a congressional staffer said.

About 145,000 people are eligible for retroactive stop-loss pay, but the services have had problems finding the veterans. About 59,000 claims have been paid, according to the Defense Department.

Army veterans are “very mobile” once they leave the service, Army Maj. Roy Whitley, in charge of the Army’s retroactive stop-loss program, said in July.

“These guys go to college and get jobs and it is really hard to track them down, so quite often we actually contact their parents based on the last best address,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t want to be found, it’s just that they are literally suspicious that the Army ... is coming out to pay them money.”

In mid-September, President Barack Obama addressed those concerns in a video message.

“Some veterans think this is some sort of gimmick or scam, or it’s some way for the government to call you back to service,” Obama said. “As your commander in chief, I am here to tell you that this is no gimmick or trick. You worked hard; you earned this money.”

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