A federal judge has thrown out a legal challenge to the Army’s stop-loss program, which prohibits soldiers from leaving the Army if their unit is slated to deploy to the combat zone, court records say.

The current stop-loss program has been in effect since January 2002, said Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart.

“Currently, there are approximately 12,500 soldiers under Stop-Loss: 7,600 active duty soldiers, 2,450 reservists, and 2,450 National Guardsmen,” Hart said in an e-mail.

“We estimate that approximately 50,000 of the more than 1.5 million soldiers who have been/are in the Army have been affected since 9-11.”

Rafael Perez and David Qualls filed a lawsuit challenging the program after they were both involuntarily extended and sent to Iraq with the Army National Guard, records say.

Perez already had served four years on active duty when he joined the Arizona National Guard in July 2003 for what he thought was a one-year stint, but in August 2004 he was ordered to go to Iraq for a year-and-a-half, records say.

Perez claimed his recruiter committed fraud by telling him he was only joining the National Guard for a year and never mentioned that he could be involuntarily extended, records say.

But District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth found no deception on the part of the recruiter, records say.

“In fact, Perez has been on notice of the possibility of “stop loss” since first entering the military on September 23, 1999,” Lamberth wrote in his opinion. “His enlistment contract informed him that he could be involuntarily called to active duty in a variety of circumstances, including a presidentially declared national emergency, as well as a war or national emergency declared by Congress.”

While the recruiter did not mention the Army’s stop-loss policy, Perez had four years’ experience on active duty to learn how the Army might keep him involuntarily, Lamberth wrote.

“After all, the recruiter was not dealing with a brand new enlistee out of high school but rather a veteran,” Lamberth wrote.

Lamberth also found that Qualls’ challenge was invalid because he re-enlisted in the National Guard after being involuntarily extended, records show.

Qualls joined the National Guard for a one-year term of service in 2003, but a few months later he was ordered to Iraq for two years, records indicate.

While in Iraq, he re-enlisted for another six years, according to records.

Lamberth found that Qualls’ voluntary re-enlistment made his involuntary extension moot.

Qualls also claimed he was forced to re-enlist in the National Guard because he was facing bankruptcy and needed the $15,000 re-enlistment bonus, but Lamberth disagreed, records show.

“The Court is not persuaded by Qualls’ argument, which amounts to nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to escape the consequences of his actions,” Lamberth wrote.

Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a military law expert, said he does not see Lamberth’s decision having long-term effects.

Fidell said stop-loss cases are hard to make, but this case was a “hard sell,” especially since Qualls voluntarily re-enlisted.

“He cut the knees off his own case,” Fidell said.

He also said Lamberth’s ruling should dissuade others from filing such lawsuits.

“There is no point in wasting money,” he said.

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