News

During shutdown, charity pays troops’ death benefits

During shutdown, charity pays troops’ death benefits

CHARITY STEPS IN: 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. Photo: Reuters

By Phil Stewart and Roberta Rampton

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.”

Recent Headlines

in Local

No Deal On Iowa Budget

Iowa state capital

Iowa lawmakers return to Des Moines this week, with no apparent movement on the budget dispute.

in Local

Budget Process Moving Slowly

John Thune

Negotiations between republicans in the US House and Senate on 2016 budget bills could soon move to debate in both chambers.

in Local

Water Project Could See More Money

L&C water 102212

South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem was able to get almost twenty nine million dollars added to the rural water project fund.

in Local

Death Penalty Repeal A Tough Vote

Tyson Larson Photo 1 021514

A bill that would repeal the death penalty in Nebraska passed on first round on a 30 to 13 vote, and is scheduled to come back for further debate.

in Local

Amendments Delay Iran Nuke Vote

Rounds and Rook

Republicans in the US Senate are trying to work through a number of proposed amendments to the Iran Nuclear Review Agreement.