Nightly News   |  October 09, 2013

White House turns to private charity for military death benefits

As military families received the remains of their loved ones at Dover Air Force Base, White House lawyers allowed a private organization for veterans and their families to step in and pay veteran’s death benefits, which had been suspended due to the shutdown. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> good evening. the government shutdown is now in its ninth day. after our report last night the death benefits have been cut off for military families of soldiers killed oversea s. a lot of lawmakers talked about how deplorable it was to withhold benefits from these grieving families. but with republicans and democrats still fighting, today the solution they have come up with is a charity, a well known, well respected charity for vets and their families called the fisher house foundation . they will step in and do what government is supposed to do. this was hammered out as the bodies of the fallen arrived at dover air force base in delaware today. we begin here tonight with nbc's andrea mitchell who broke the story. she is with us from dover tonight. andrea, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. the denial of the benefits was so outrageous and caused such an outcry that the white house was scrambling to come up with a fix and did turn to a private charity to bail them out. the agreement came after families had already traveled here to dover air force base for the dignified transfer of their loved ones' remains. flown home from afghanistan, received in silence, punctuated only by the rhythmic footsteps of the honor guard. met by secretary of state chuck hagel , the army chief of staff genere odierno and secretary of the army mchugh. killed sunday during a combat mission in canada daf province afghanistan by an improvised explosive device they represent an honor role of sacrifice. 24-year-old private first class james cody patterson, an army ranger from philomath, oregon. at his high school back home.

>> cody was just awesome. he was super funny and had a great attitude. very compassionate and positive.

>> reporter: but family and friends were angry about the benefits freeze.

>> the family not being able to receive the help that they should be able to receive because the government is shut down just -- it blows my mind.

>> reporter: three others arriving today. army ranger sergeant patrick hawkins from carlisle, pennsylvania. he celebrated his 25th birthday a week ago. first lieutenant jennifer moreno, also 25. an army nurse from san diego . and special agent joseph peters , a 24-year-old intelligence officer from springfield, missouri, the father of a 20-month-old son gabriel. an merge legion post in frederick, maryland, the veterans are furious.

>> they deserve it. they died. they fought for the their country. their widows and children who get the benefits.

>> reporter: ken fisher who heads a private organization for veterans and their families stepped in to pay the benefits after seeing our report yesterday.

>> they are grieving. they have suffered enough. why on earth should they have to worry about where their next dollar is coming from?

>> reporter: while in belleville i will noise jefferson's restaurant offered to donate 100% of their profits today to the families of the fallen.

>> maybe if one person does it, a hundred more will and it will help more people out.

>> reporter: tonight president obama told doreen gensler --

>> when i heard about the story i told the department of defense within our administrative powers we should be able to get that fixed.

>> reporter: and to be clear, this fix is to let a private charity step in and fulfill a commitment that the government made and right now won't keep. while some pentagon leaders are relieved right now, we also hear that many top uniformed leaders are frankly disgusted that the world's greatest military is letting it be bailed out by a private charity. brian?

>> andrea mitchell , dover air force base tonight. andrea, thank you.