WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Army says it is looking for 35,000 soldiers and veterans who are owed bonuses because they were forced to stay in the service.
Congress authorized the "special pay" in 2009 after criticism of the "stop loss" policy that involuntarily extended enlistments for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"In this economy, I haven't met a single stop-loss veteran who can't use this money," Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told USA Today.
Under the law, the Army has paid out $245 million for 84,000 soldiers, said Maj. Roy Whitley, who is in charge of the program.
But $160 million still is owed to 57,000 current or former soldiers, or to families of those killed. That includes 22,000 requests now under review and about 35,000 the Army has not yet located.
The Army used stop-loss extensively to keep up troop levels up in Iraq. Other services used the program less but they have about 15,000 unpaid cases.
The law pays soldiers retroactive bonuses of $500 for every month served beyond enlistment. The average payout is about $3,800.
The military has ended the stop-loss policy.