NewsNation   |  October 08, 2013

Families of fallen soldiers lose benefits

NBC’s Mark Murray, Jim Miklaszewski, VoteVets.org’s Jon Soltz, TAPS’ Ami Nieberger-Miller, and Rep. Gwen Moore talk about how the government shutdown is preventing the families of fallen soldiers from collecting death benefits used to help with funerals and flights to meet their loved ones.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> nation is following this growing outrage over what's become a devastating effect of the government shutdown . it is now preventing families of fallen soldiers from collecting death benefits used to help with funerals and even flights for families to meet their loved ones who died. a senior defense official tells nbc news, 17 service members have died since the government shutdown on october 1st . and that none of their families have received those benefits, among them the family of 19-year-old marine larns corporal jeremiah collins , killed on saturday. his grieving mother spoke with our nbc affiliate in milwaukee.

>> there's nothing like this pain. for the sacrifice that our kids are making and at the age they are making them, i don't understand how this can be a benefit that's withheld. i will not -- ip won't ever understand it.

>> joining me now pentagon correspondent jim miklaszewski . there's been back and forth whether it was made by the pentagon or something required for the government shutdown . clear this us for us.

>> it is not a call by the pentagon. the lawyers here in the pentagon went to every possible length to figure out how to get around the law that shut the government down. and tried to work it into the pay the military now act and looked at every possible loophole and couldn't make it work. at least temporarily, the benefits will not be paid. it's $100,000 benefit, which is meant to cover the travel, burial and the like and it applies not only to service members killed in action , but any service member who dies. if a service member were to walk out of the pentagon today and get hit by a car, god forbid and get killed, they would be paid the same $100,000 benefit. now, of course because it's suspended. but once the government shutdown is lifted, pentagon officials say that the benefit will in fact be paid, that the $100,000 is being allocated as we speak for those who are killed in action or in accident or died naturally as a matter of fact. and then once the shutdown is over, those funds should be made immediately available to the families of those service members.

>> thank you very much. let me bring in a.m. mee miller, for tragedy assistance program for survivors , provides emotional help for anyone who suffered the loss of a military loved one and iraq war vet, chairman and co-funder of vote vets.org. amy , you know this tragedy all too well. before i get your reaction, four our u.s. soldiers killed over weekend, joseph peters , 24, cody patterson age 24. your reaction to this fallout from the shutdown only being discussed now after an excellent report from andrea mitchell . i think people think it is sickening to be honest with you.

>> i think it is heart wrenching to know newly we reefd families will not have benefits when they need to bring families together to grief.

>> john, we talk with you often and you're a passionate guy and my team told me this is something you would really wanted to speak out about and we wanted to get your voice. what are vets telling you?

>> i've gotten a lot of calls today, obviously. one of my buddies called me and did a couple of tours in iraq and called it the ultimate disgrace. i'm embarrassed today standing in front of the capitol. this $100,000 is important, supposed to come with the casualty assistance, $ 1200 of indem knit for the families. i can imagine, it's absolutely a shame and i think it's the absolute example why we need to completely fund the government. when we try to piecemeal this thing, it's an absolute slap in the face to those who died and certainly our organization, to continue to hold the gop accountable, specifically members of the house who have led us to this point.

>> amy , we watched world war ii vets attempt to see the memorial and were not initially able to go in. the government shutdown here, this raises the states of emotion to the next level. i want to play with patrick leahy of vermont, he was addressing the presiding officer of the senate. let's play what he said. we don't have it but basically he said we send our soldiers to war and tell them we're there if something happens to their families and now just because of a small group of tea party republicans we say we can't even take care of your family when you die in the service. i don't want you to get into the politics of this or what side do you blame, but again, what message would you send to members of congress as we look at families grieving and left in the cold?

>> we have fortunately a number of organizations has stood up, including the army relief society and navy marine corps sew side and others, trying to fund emergency travel for these families and help families with immediate needs. we are at taps are ready to support these families, our role is providing bereefment care and support and providing a list of resources that are available so we can be there to assist these families. there is a community here that is ready to embrace and support these families.

>> amy , thank you very much.

>> john, thank you as well. we are awaiting the president, but meanwhile, let me bring in democratic congresswoman gwen more of wisconsin. is mark murray still with us? mark, let me bring you back in. we're talking about benefits for military families, obviously my father served this country, 30 years in the army. i cannot pretend it doesn't hurt when you hear something like this. this is not the only impact that needs to be discussed. what's happened for example with head start programs where now you're looking at an individual that will donate some funds to help kids go to head start as well. assistance as we pointed out, single mother , capital police, bravely protected members ever congress and we did not know what was playing out in that tragic scene last week, who also were not receiving -- the list goes on and on and depending on what your interests are or passions, you might get a little heated here. but the reality is there are innocent people who are the victims of the government shutdown .

>> tamron, the federal government is the nailg nation's largest employer. there's always big debates on how big the government should be, republicans want to make it small enand democrats want to expand the social safety net and things like that. but it does have very big consequences. just what happened at general electric , always been seen as one of the nation's largest employer went belly up all of a sudden -- this has been a partial government shutdown . still parts that are working and president showing up today. he has his essential staff working, same thing on capitol hill . but there have been so many services that aren't taking place and paychecks that aren't going out and websites and job reports that aren't going out. all of that has an impact. the question is what goes on if this goes on another week?

>> let me bring in -- i'll get you to stand by. let's bring in democratic congresswoman gwen moore of wisconsin. her district includes milwaukee where lance corporal jeremiah collins is from. we're waiting for the president, but your reaction to this story that these family members will not get this money even to go retrieve the body of their loved one?

>> tamron, this is just so heartbreaking to hear. i'm so sorry this brave young man the intelligence lance corporal jeremiah collins has lost his life in afghanistan. my heart goes out to the family. there's nothing that we can do to really relief the grief and pain that his brother and sister and mother and father are feeling, but at least, at least we could not add to this grief but now providing the ability of this family to bury him decently. usually these resources are provided to the family within 36 hours of someone like marine lance corporal collins passing. because of the shutdown, despite passing the military bill and despite all of these antics with veterans bills, it really shows the problem of trying to cobble together and piece together a government. it is --

>> ma'am, let me interrupt you