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

Springfield CVB Nabs National “G.I. Joe” Convention

G

It's not unusual for Springfield to host conventions for collectors of certain types of memorabilia, but this is a first.

in Local

Sangamon Co. Authorities Investigate Jury Duty Scam

sangamon county sheriff

The Sangamon County Sheriff's Office is warning of a jury duty scam that's so far affected several people.

in Local

Poe Returns to House Chamber to Thunderous Applause

state_capitol_1

Poe is back in the saddle after being sidelined for months due to a blood disorder.

in Local

Meteorological Winter Ends; Illinois Was About Average

snow1

Winter is over -- at least for the people who study the weather.

in Local

Memorial Medical Center Opens New Surgical Center

memorial-health-podcasts@2x

Springfield's Memorial Medical Center has a new surgical center.