The families of four U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan over the weekend will gather at Dover Air Force Base … Read More
The families of four U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan over the weekend will gather at Dover Air Force Base to meet their fallen loved ones Wednesday, while lawmakers less than 100 miles away attempt to stem public outrage that the government shutdown scuttled promised financial aid to the families.
The $100,000 “death gratuity” delivered to surviving spouses and dependents is designed to tide families over until survivor benefits take effect, and covers immediate costs like flights to meet the caskets and the burial. Families of 17 service members have not received the benefit since a budget impasse triggered by a Republican protest over President Obama’s health care law shut the government Oct. 1. Each family has had to incur thousands of dollars in expenses in the immediate aftermath.
After NBC’s Andrea Mitchell broke the story of the missing benefit, a number of lawmakers moved to reinstate the pay. Some members of Congress said they thought the “death gratuity” was included in the Pay Our Military Act passed last week to keep paychecks on schedule for military personnel during the shutdown.
The House is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon on legislation that would restore the benefit to military families. While the Senate has rejected previous House mini-funding bills during the shutdown, Senate leaders expressed outrage on the denial of payment for any military members or their families. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the benefit delay “shameful and embarrassing” Tuesday, as did Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
In the meantime, private charities including Maryland’s Fisher House Charity, have vowed to fill the gap by covering the benefit amount until the government is able to offer reimbursement.
The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, General Eric Shinseki, testified before a House hearing Wednesday, on the shutdown’s impact on veterans, including a delay in the processing of already-backlogged disability and pensions claims for veterans.
He said that “all the effects [of the shutdown] are negative” and that roughly 1,400 veterans a day are not getting decisions on disability claims due to the absence of furloughed workers.
“If the shutdown doesn’t end in the coming weeks, [the Department of Veterans’ Affairs] will not be able to assure delivery of Nov 1 checks to 5.18 million beneficiaries” totaling $6.25 billion dollars in payments, Shinseki said.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was expected to greet the fallen soldiers at Dover Wednesday.
Around 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed since October 1.