Fine Print: Contract is Void if US Military Say So
December 6, 2004 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Soldiers Challenge Enlistment Extensions
You sign a contract for a specific period of service, when that service is up you're supposed to be done but that doesn't happen if its a contract with the US government. Soldiers are now suing to try and get out of their extended duties.

Yes, there is the Pentagon's "Stop Loss" program but "The lawsuit contends the policy [stop loss] is a breach of the service contract because it extends the length of service without a soldier's consent. It also alleges the contracts were misleading because they make no reference to the policy, said Staughton Lynd, an attorney for the soldiers."
posted by fenriq (40 comments total)
"stop loss". Newspeak for "increased risk of death or injury."
posted by telstar at 12:33 PM on December 6, 2004

I'm on record as saying (numerous times) that if you sign a contract with the government agreeing to do what you're told, you should just suck it up and get shot at like you promised that you would.

But if you serve the length of the contract, it's then up to the government to honor their end. I hope that guy wins.

This is assuming that this is totally retroactive legislation that doesn't build on some clause in the original contract. If there was something in the fine print along the lines of "We reserve the right to extend the length of this contract, no matter what you think of it," then I think that people should consider more carefully before they agree to defend our overseas business interests and possibly die in exchange for money and services. If not, then I'm as outraged as anyone about it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2004

"Stop loss" is also an euphanism for forced labour, apparently.

Stuff like this is why I would never sign the contract to be in the armed forces in the first place.
posted by raedyn at 12:48 PM on December 6, 2004

Yes, there is the Pentagon's "Stop Loss" program but "The lawsuit contends the policy [stop loss] is a breach of the service contract because it extends the length of service without a soldier's consent.

You consent to "Stop Loss" when you sign the contract. It is made abundantly clear that you maybe called upon to serve longer than your contract if needed.

the contracts were misleading because they make no reference to the policy

My contact did not use the words "stop loss" but it said in many ways that my service could be extended if needed.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 12:56 PM on December 6, 2004

look what they did to your brain, man! i'd be sueing their asses off, steve.
posted by quonsar at 1:00 PM on December 6, 2004

Well, 60 Minutes did a story on this last night and there are TWO technicalities which generally don't come up in this discussion:

1) If you were honorably discharged or retired but did not 'retire' or 'relinquish' your officer status, you can be recalled to duty as per the contract;

2) It is stated in the enlistment contract that you are subject to Army Regulations Something or Other, it just does not explicity state what that regulation is. It is a regulation that outlines the conditions under which the army may recall you to service.

So, while I feel for these people, I don't have much sympathy because if I were going to sign my life away for 4 to 8 years I would be DAMN sure I understood every single line of what I was signing. There is no way I wouldn't look at every regulation mentioned and be sure I know what I'm getting into.
posted by spicynuts at 1:02 PM on December 6, 2004

One problem with stop-loss is that it puts the lie to the much vaunted all volunteer military that we supposedly have. Bush was in love with that notion during the campaign, but even then stop loss orders were making it a sham.
posted by OmieWise at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2004

Here's a transcript:

Also, here's an excerpt outlining what I just said:

What Mary didn’t realize is that, as an officer, she remained in the Ready Reserve -- even after her eight years were through -- because she hadn’t resigned her commission as an officer.

On the actual broadcast they had a picture of the contract with the regulation number listed. I can't find that pic.
posted by spicynuts at 1:08 PM on December 6, 2004

Except that during the 60 Minutes piece there were even officers who did relinquish their officer status being recalled.

You guys have a lot of sympathy for what's basically a low-down deceptive contract. If this were loan sharking would you feel the same way?
posted by xammerboy at 1:12 PM on December 6, 2004

and the contract really hid that you could be recalled even if you didn't relinquish officer status. Come on now, is that right?
posted by xammerboy at 1:13 PM on December 6, 2004

In a connected story:

The fact this guy signed up voluntarily is going to be a problem for his refugee claim. A contract is a contract?
posted by scheptech at 1:14 PM on December 6, 2004

I keep thinking about what would be happening if this were a private company railroading its employees like this.

Is a contract still a contract if one party has breached that contract? I don't think so.

Now we have to say "read the non-existent fine print"?
posted by fenriq at 1:18 PM on December 6, 2004

Xammerboy -- officers who have been recalled despite resigning their commissions on or after their 8th anniversary (but before receiving notice of recall) have been succeeding thus far in avoiding their recalls. The government has basically acknowledged those recalls to be in error.

Not that it shouldn't be troubling -- the reason for the error is that the military has never really felt a need to have good system for database accession of commission resignations, since it's been an unimportant formality heretofore. It certainly suggests that the bottom is being scraped in terms of professional leadership at that level.

While I don't think a draft will be necessary, I do think that they're going to have institute a mini-version of the World War II system that recruited businesspeople and professionals to come into service directly as mid-level officers.

Such a program will be spectacularly successful -- while there aren't a lot of 30 year old lawyers and middle managers who'd be willing to enlist as privates and head off to boot camp with a bunch of 19 year olds, I bet there are a lot of them who'd give up pushing papers for command of a couple hundred soldiers, which is a typical job for a 30 year old officer.
posted by MattD at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2004

Wait until, in order to avoid actually drafting people until the very very very last moment possible, they start hiring ten times as many "contractor soldiers" - AKA mercenaries - as they're already hiring now, and paying them with some new appropriation.

I feel bad for guys like this.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:34 PM on December 6, 2004

I have altered the agreement. Pray that I do not alter it further.
posted by dr_dank at 1:35 PM on December 6, 2004

I don't recall an officer who had relinquished their commission getting recalled in the 60 Minutes story. What I recall is Mr. Parrish's case in which the Army said they had no record of his discharge and then said that the discharge was granted out of a clerical error and should not have been granted.

Now, obviously that's a lot of b.s. the Army is trying to pull, but it does not remove the fact that the recall regulation is stated on the contract.

And now I will stop playing devil's advocate, because really it's b.s. on the government's part from fair play point of view.
posted by spicynuts at 1:37 PM on December 6, 2004

I generally find that when I'm signing up for new software and agreeing to abide by the rules, I don't read the rules anymore, I just click yes. There could be a clause in there that says 'in return for the use of this software, we will commandeer your grandma for nefarious sexual activities on a weekly basis', and I'd be agreeing to it. I don't have the power to change the rules in that contract anyway, and I just trust that they are NOT going to nick my granny.

Now, granted that signing up to serve in the military is going to affect your life a WHOLE lot more that whether you have access to photoshop, the point is the same - that once you have made a decision to sign up for something, you do it. And if you don't have the power to change the terms of your contract, or the legal knowledge as to what it all means, you gloss over it, and TRUST that they are not going to screw you. Which, as it turns out, is a really bad idea, because either they put clauses in the fine print that screw you, or they make up rules as they go along that screw you.

Is it too much to expect our governments to treat soldiers with just a little bit of respect? Apparently, yes.
posted by middlebean at 1:50 PM on December 6, 2004

I think something that should also be considered in this, is what happens when a soldier breaks contract by serving less time than the contract calls for by going AWOL or deserts. The military doesn't just sit back and let it happen. They punish the soldier to the full extent of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). The military should be held just as accountable for its actions as its individual components.
posted by x_3mta3 at 2:00 PM on December 6, 2004

I think that many people sign up, like middlebean said, and don't read the fine print. Many of my friends in college (in the US, 10 years ago) joined ROTC so that they could get college paid for. More than one said to me "Well, we'll never go to war anyway. I'll never have to fight. So I might as well have college paid for" and then they laughed at me for taking out school loans instead of going ROTC.

I now have friends who have been out of the military for years, aren't in Reserves or anything. They tell me that the government will still legally be able to call them up for service before they impose a draft because they've had training and the US will take advantage of that.
posted by Spencerinc at 2:01 PM on December 6, 2004

There could be a clause in there that says 'in return for the use of this software, we will commandeer your grandma for nefarious sexual activities on a weekly basis', and I'd be agreeing to it.

Actually, in contract law, a contract is void if the party is agreeing to something that is already against the laws of the land. In the case of a military contract, however, this isn't the problem.

The problem is that these people are going to say, "Well, I didn't know," in which case the courts will take into consideration whether the party has "reasonable expectation." Reasonable expectation might depend on the prominence of the terms in dispute, the circumstances under which the contract was made, the purpose of the term, and the clarity of the term.

So if they hide the recall section in fine print on page 148 of a contract, or the term is either sanitized (the military is great for this kind of thing) or enshrouded in legalese, the weaker party might have a case.

If the court determines that the weaker party had no knowledge of the possibility of recall, it has to decide whether or not an ordinary person would assume they'd be called up. I think, given the outrage in this situation, you could make a pretty decent argument of, "If I'd known I could be conscribed to do this for the rest of my life, I never would have signed up."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:36 PM on December 6, 2004

There could be a clause in there that says 'in return for the use of this software, we will commandeer your grandma for nefarious sexual activities on a weekly basis', and I'd be agreeing to it. I don't have the power to change the rules in that contract anyway, and I just trust that they are NOT going to nick my granny.

So that is how they recruit for those websites...I've always wondered.
posted by srboisvert at 3:39 PM on December 6, 2004

Is this a violation of the contract I signed? Hell yes. But people should think more carefully of just exactly what they sign away when they put their soul on that contract,

It doesn't matter how closely you read or consider the contract if what is happening is a violation of that contract--by definition something that violates a contact will not be in said contract.
posted by MikeKD at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2004

So this must be what Bush was talking about during the debates, when he said there wouldn't be no gosh darned draft...

Galatians vi. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
posted by AlexReynolds at 4:16 PM on December 6, 2004

On npr's treatment of this issue today, I thought I heard them say that stop loss was allowed "in event of a war declared by the congress" or some such language. What I'm wondering is, is the war in Iraq an Officially Declared War By Congress, or not? I mean, congress authorized the use of force by Bush, but is that the same thing?

I thought I remembered hearing that most modern wars the U.S. has been in (was it everything after WWII?) were not officially declared wars. They use different language that makes it not legally a "war", although the various conflicts certainly fit the layman's definition of war.
posted by beth at 4:19 PM on December 6, 2004

The thing is that the "stop loss" policy isn't in the contract, there's no mention that they could be forced to continue to serve after their agreed upon date is up.

Employers try to pull the same crap with that lame "And duties to be assigned later" on the bottom of job descriptions as a way of piling on new tasks. Its crap, the military knows its crap and they'll likely still get away with it because they are the US Military.

So what's the Bushism for "draft" going to be? Consolidated conversions to militaristic careers?
posted by fenriq at 4:23 PM on December 6, 2004

beth: I think one of the requirements of Congress when it authorized the use of force in Iraq was that Bush had to file an official war letter. So this war at least is declared.
posted by rustcellar at 4:30 PM on December 6, 2004

rustcellar, so don't keep us in suspense, which letter did Bush file? The W, the A or the R? And did he use a new crayon or an old one to file it?
posted by fenriq at 4:33 PM on December 6, 2004

I feel for these guys. Being in the military is getting the shitty end of the stick, especially for enlisted personnel. The military makes the rules, but gets to change them later if becomes convenient for them. They also lie a lot. Recruiters are famous for it, and there's nothing to discourage it.

The UCMJ is a really third-rate replacement for your Constitutional rights. It pretty much means you have to do whatever you're told, regardless of any other considerations. Oh, you supposedly have the right to refuse an illegal order, but you'd better be a lawyer before you try it, because if you can't prove it was illegal, you've refused a legal one, and will be punished.

That's all on top of getting sent to places where people try to kill you. It really sucks that the the Chicken Hawk administration can do this to the people who are willing to serve, when they weren't.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:31 PM on December 6, 2004

No, Beth, Iraq is not a war declared by Congress. Mr. MoonPie hooked me up with the actual text of the legislation that authorized the president to use force in Iraq, and that's all it is, an authorization to use force. It does not declare war, and it specifically points to other legal mechanisms that only apply outside of wartime.
posted by NortonDC at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2004

Looks like we will have to find troops from other countries within the coalition of the willing. Hey wait, we are the coalition of the willing.
posted by j-urb at 5:47 PM on December 6, 2004

A couple of observations:

Whenever there's some intentional bullshit going on, the English language seems to be the first casualty. Whenever you see intentionally euphemistic terms like "stop-loss", or "surgical strike" or "compassionate conservative", etc., it's a pretty safe bet that someone is trying to snow someone else.

How can anyone not see voluntarily signing up with the military for the Faustian bargain that it is? They have their own legal system that takes precedence over any rights or recourse you might have as a run-of -the-mill citizen. When you jump down the rabbit hole on your own volition, you have to know strange things might happen. You don't think that separate legal system is just window-dressing, do you?

That said, I think that military service is, at it's best, a noble pursuit and, at it's worst, a cynical and exploitative business. If the leaders making these stop-loss decisions are truly acting in everyone's best interest, then I wish them luck and success. If, however, they are playing semantic games with people's lives because they are unable (or unwilling) to re-evaluate their game plan or world-view, then there's not a hot enough corner in Hell for 'em, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:14 PM on December 6, 2004

Military makes the rules? You have to follow orders? AND they send you to places were people try to kill you!
SHIT, I thought military was where you get to wear a cool uniform, drive whole bunch of big ass cool-looking trucks, jump out of airplanes and look really cool.
posted by c13 at 7:05 PM on December 6, 2004

As reflection noted...there is no such thing as a 4 year contract for military service. It is 8 years, 4 active and 4 in the IRR. As I understand it, every service contract has a 4 year IRR stint on the end of it. Perhaps I had an exceptional recruiter but even at the wise old age of 18, I knew and understood this going in. It was also made abundantly clear going in that the military (in my case Navy) would accommodate personal desires to whatever extent possible, but "needs of the Navy" indeed trumps all.

I am against this war as anybody, but folks really ought to read what they sign. If not all the time, how about when it affects the next eight years of your life (if you make it that long) and you are ceding some of your civil rights to fall under the UCMJ. Ignorance really is no excuse.
posted by pivo at 10:13 PM on December 6, 2004

What would the recourse be if it was a contract in the civilian world? Contracts are contracts... ignorance of what is stated therein is not a valid reason for breech.

I saw people literally freaking out and falling apart after 9/11 when they were stop-lossed. I miss many aspects of service, but having a release date extended indefinitely simply hurts ones mind.

Beyond 10 years of military service and a soldier is considered "enlisted for life" and legally expected to stay for 20.

If anything, the Iraq ?war? has exposed many people to the entirely different world that all of our service members, spouses, and families are required by regulation to live in.
posted by buzzman at 12:09 AM on December 7, 2004

The only way there could be any justice in all this would be if everyone of the people getting the back-door from Bush actually voted for the bastard.

"Who cares what you think?" -GWB
posted by nofundy at 5:28 AM on December 7, 2004

It seems that becoming openly gay will solve this problem.
posted by john at 10:23 AM on December 7, 2004

pivo Ignorance really is no excuse.

I have a bit of sympathy for people who enlist without knowing what they are actually getting into as they often are at a severe disadvantage. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the first contract a lot of the enlistees have signed that was more serious than enrolling at blockbuster.

The US military recruits people who haven't graduated from high school (both drop outs and those who are still in school). They eagerly seek out people who can't even imbibe a beer at the local bar. And as others have said not one of the recruitment ads ever show you getting shot at let alone actually getting injured. Heck they don't even show cooks, clerks, mechanics or weapons loaders. Is it still the case that news outlets can't show bodies being returned from overseas?
posted by Mitheral at 11:55 AM on December 7, 2004

It seems that becoming openly gay will solve this problem.

Actually, you don't even have to be gay. Simply stating that you are gay is enough for them to kick you out.
posted by x_3mta3 at 6:57 PM on December 7, 2004

(circumstances alter cases) X (might makes right)
posted by ackptui at 4:19 AM on December 13, 2004

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