Nightly News   |  October 08, 2013

Boehner: ‘It’s disgraceful’ military families denied death benefits

On Tuesday Congressmen expressed their outrage and frustration with the government shutdown, which has prevented military families from receiving their death benefits. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee says lawmakers will fix this Wednesday. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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

>> reporter: this is kelly o'donnell on capitol hill where there is outrage.

>> i am ashamed, embarrassed, we all should be.

>> reporter: as congress deals with the unexpected casualty of the government shutdown .

>> i would hate to look those families in the eye and say well, yeah, this is all because democrats and republicans can't agree.

>> reporter: outside the capitol, illinois democrat, tammy duckworth , the first disabled veteran elected to congress knows the hardship. do you feel it in a way that maybe your colleagues don't?

>> yeah, i feel it in my gut, i know exactly what the families are going through. i know just what it is like to get that phone call from the army assistance department, because my family got that call.

>> reporter: they were allowed money for burial costs, it caught the attention of the majority leader harry reid .

>> does not allow the death benefits for the families of the fallen, officials told andrea mitchell of nbc.

>> reporter: word spread in the house republican's morning meeting. the south carolina congressman mark sanford . how is a death benefit held back in the time of shutdown?

>> it is wrong and it will be fixed.

>> reporter: late today i asked the house speaker . can you tell us please what you would say to military families just denied the benefits due to the shutdown? boehner said they believed that all military families were protected with their paychecks last week, when the government signed and promised to pay, through the military act.

>> we give broad authority through the department of defense to pay all sorts of bills, including this, and frankly i think it is disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits.

>> reporter: the chairman that runs the armed services committee says that lawmakers will fix this tomorrow.

>> they will get their benefits.

>> reporter: can you promise that?

>> i promise that. there is no question they will get their benefits.

>> reporter: tonight, pentagon lawyers say they simply disagreed with the speaker and lawmakers and learned that the department of defense didn't have the authority to pay these benefits now. tonight, senators from both parties have written to secretary hagel, and tomorrow they are expected to pass a bill that would protect the benefits right away.