During shutdown, U.S. charity to ensure fallen troops' death benefits

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 9, 2013 9:12pm EDT

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and Secretary of the Army John McHugh (2nd L) salute as a U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson of Philomath, Oregon at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, October 9, 2013. REUTERS/Roland Balik/U.S. Air Force/Handout

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and Secretary of the Army John McHugh (2nd L) salute as a U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson of Philomath, Oregon at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, October 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Roland Balik/U.S. Air Force/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A private U.S. charity struck a deal with the Pentagon on Wednesday to advance a "death gratuity" to families of American troops who die during the government shutdown, after the Defense Department determined it was legally unable to make the $100,000 payment.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the agreement after returning from Dover Air Force Base, where he attended a ceremony marking the return of the bodies of four U.S. soldiers killed by insurgents in Afghanistan on Sunday.

Leaving grieving military families without the death benefit during the shutdown triggered outrage and finger-pointing by Republicans and Democrats. It thrust relatives of those killed in Afghanistan into the media spotlight and Washington's political feud over the federal budget.

"I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner," Hagel said in a statement.

The White House said President Barack Obama was "very disturbed" when he heard about the lapse and had directed lawyers at the Defense Department and White House budget office to find a way to immediately resume the payments.

Under the agreement, Fisher House Foundation will advance the death benefit to military families using its own funds until the Pentagon can reimburse it once the shutdown ends.

Relatives of the four soldiers killed by a Taliban bomb attack gathered at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday to attend the solemn ceremony commemorating the return of the remains of their loved ones to the United States.

They included 24-year-old Sergeant Joseph Peters of Springfield, Missouri.

"It is upsetting because my husband died for his country, and now his family is left to worry," NBC quoted his widow, Ashley Peters, as before the Pentagon announcement.

"My husband always said if something happened to him we would be taken care of."

Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday that members of Congress should be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" for the lapse.

The House voted unanimously on Wednesday for a resolution that would ensure that death benefits to families of fallen troops will be disbursed during the government shutdown.

On Tuesday, the House passed an act ordering that all military pay and allowances - including the death benefit - would continue to be disbursed.

Even with death gratuity payments resolved, the impact of a prolonged government shutdown could still be felt acutely by veterans throughout the country, U.S. officials say.

Those injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are among those who could see monthly disability and other benefits cut-off from November 1 due to projected cash crunch, the Department of Veterans' Affairs warned Congress on Wednesday.

More than 5 million people are expecting payments next month and all of them are threatened, it said.

"It's not a game," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told the hearing. "There are veterans and service members, families, children counting on this. And they expect us to deliver."

(This story is corrected to death benefit in paragraph 13)

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal, Roberta Rampton, David Alexander and Patricia Zengerle.; Editing by Christopher Wilson)

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Comments (10)
Zaichik wrote:
Pretty interesting that the Pentagon could find the money to recall almost all the furloughed employees, but not to pay veteran death benefits. Seems to me that the priorities are not what they should be!

Oct 09, 2013 9:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
drauckerr wrote:
I get really tired of military people claiming they are doing this, that, or the other for their country. Claiming someone who died fighting in Afghanistan did so for his country is an absurd lie. He died to further the ambitions and personal objectives of a few politicians. That’s how it was with Vietnam, that’s how it was with Iraq, and that’s how it still is with Afghanistan.

Afghanistan never attacked the United States, never posed any threat to the United States, and never will pose any threat to the United States. The country was attacked by the U.S. because the Taliban run government refused to help the United States kill Osama bin Laden, who was something of a national hero for helping defeat the Russians. Legally they had no obligation to assist since the U.S. didn’t so much as have an extradition treaty with them.

And now, just like it was with Vietnam and Iraq, the big bad U.S. military is whimpering home with its tail between its legs having blown over 10 trillion dollars to accomplish nothing. In much less than the 12 years since the country was attacked, the Taliban will again be in control and all that money and all those lives will have been wasted, totally and completely wasted.

Oct 09, 2013 9:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
ThoseWhoServe wrote:
The House of Representatives drafted and passed the legislation to continue paying Members of the Armed Forces. They said that they intended to continue paying death benefits for troops.

Unfortunately, there was no legal basis to provide death benefits in the legislation, and the Department of Defense is temporarily using funding provided by a private charity.

Do you think the people in the House of Representatives who created this mess are really capable of handling the default of the U.S. Government?

Oct 09, 2013 9:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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