Soldiers find stop loss can mean 'stop pay'
The following correction to this story was posted March 23: A March 22 story about 1st Armored Division soldiers not getting paid should have stated that the 12 soldiers who had not had their pay problems fixed are leaving the Army. Furthermore, according to Maj. Brian T. Myers, 8th Finance Battalion rear detachment commander, all the problems were expected to be fixed by Wednesday.
Being a combat-arms soldier is arguably the most dangerous and demanding job going. But soldiers have unmatched job security, knowing Uncle Sam is never going to miss a paycheck.
Well, almost never.
Spc. Leonardo Vargas, a fire support specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment opened up his leave and earnings statement earlier this month and saw zeros where his pay should have been.
Though not getting paid was a shock, it wasn’t really a surprise. Vargas’ expiration term of service, or ETS, date of Jan. 6, 2006, hit while he is deployed to Kuwait with 1st Armored Division. Though he would have left the Army under normal circumstances, he’s not going anywhere because the 1st AD is under stop-loss, stop-movement orders.
When Vargas went to get a new Department of Defense ID after his expired on his ETS date, a private first class with finance warned him he might stop getting paid.
“She said to me, ‘You will not be getting paid in March,’” he recalled.
“She told me, ‘Technically, you’ve left the Army.’”
After the warning from the private, Vargas went to his company personnel officer, and to finance, and thought the problem was fixed. But just as the private had warned, his pay stopped after the pay period ending Feb. 22. Unfortunately, Vargas’ expenses back in Baumholder, including his daughter’s day care and his truck payment, didn’t stop. And he isn’t the only one not getting paid.
In the 2nd Brigade, 93 soldiers have been affected so far, said Maj. Brian T. Myers, 8th Finance Battalion rear detachment commander at Baumholder, headquarters for 2nd Brigade and division artillery, which includes Vargas’ unit. But the number changes every day, said Myers as deployed soldiers held under stop-loss, stop movement hit their ETS dates.
“Each one is its own separate case,” Myers said.
“Someone needs to so something about this,” Vargas said. “It shouldn’t happen to anyone else.”
The Army is trying, officials say, but no one knows exactly what’s wrong.
While the ETS-related pay problem may be hitting soldiers Armywide, it appears to be limited in scope; a soldier-by-soldier occurrence caused by data glitches. Part of the problem may be that soldiers are coming from units that aren’t facing stop-loss into deployed units, without their unit identification codes changing.
Getting soldiers paid is a monumental undertaking involving both finance and personnel departments, said Myers and Lt. Col. Thomas Quinn, the assistant chief of staff, personnel, at 1st AD headquarters in Wiesbaden.
What appears to be happening is that soldiers’ ETS dates somehow are not getting changed even though they’re under stop-loss, Quinn said. That is, if a soldier who’s leaving the Army gets caught in stop-loss during a deployment, the ETS date on his leave and earnings statement should change to reflect that deployment, plus 90 days, Quinn said.
So, with his unit’s 365-day deployment orders last November, Vargas’ ETS date should have changed from Jan. 6, 2006, to February 2007. The fact that it didn’t showed the changes never made it to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the huge agency that actually creates paychecks.
DFAS officials could not provide official responses to the situation by Stripes’ deadline. But officials there are aware of and working on the problem, they said.
The complex, automated pay process involves a series of transactions by both finance and personnel, with many sorts of notations possible on hundreds of thousands of records, Quinn said. Personnel officials can access personnel data, and finance personnel can access finance data. But the two databases aren’t integrated, and going from one to the other can be time-consuming, he said. Though the Army is making “great strides” toward sharing data, Quinn said, there might be glitches where corrupt data gets through.
Such glitches get caught eventually, with unit and division personnel ready to assist, he said.
Of the 93 soldiers affected in the brigade, all but 12 have had their problems fixed, with the remainder to be restored Wednesday, he said. All of the 35 2nd Brigade soldiers in Kuwait who were affected have had their pay restored, Myers said.
Soldiers can avoid the problem by monitoring their ETS dates, Myers and Quinn said.
If deployed soldiers looking at their pay stubs see their ETS dates are still in May or June, “they’ve got to go fix this,” Quinn said. “Downrange, the tendency is to say, ‘Not right now, I’ve got a patrol.’ And it seems so far down the road. But then it comes up the next pay period.”
To avoid seeing all zeros come up, soldiers need to act now, Quinn said.
“Don’t wait till last minute.”