Senate leader Harry Reid called the legislation "moot" given the deal worked out by the Department of Defense and a private charity to replace the lost financial aid.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday by unanimous consent that will provide death benefits to the families of men and women killed while on active duty during the government shutdown. Yesterday, the House passed a similar bill even as the Department of Defense worked out a deal with a private charity to cover the expense during the shutdown.
The fact that military families would not receive the $100,000 normally paid to survivors of service members to allow for travel, burial, and incidental expenses became a flashpoint in the fight over who should take blame for the ongoing shutdown and its catastrophic effects, some of which, like the military death gratuity, were predicted and raised in advance of the shutdown.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner called it “disgraceful,” and blamed the DOD for “withholding the benefits” earlier this week. But Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale defended the Pentagon at a Thursday House hearing, saying “we just don’t have the legal authority” to make those payments.
“I don’t think you want us going around the law,” Hale said in front of the House Readiness Subcommittee.
The families of 29 service members killed since the Oct. 1 shutdown had lost out on the benefit before the Maryland-based charity Fisher House stepped in to pick up the slack, Hale said. He indicated that the Pentagon had signed a contract to reimburse the foundation at a later date. Maryland-based foundation that has promised to cover the $100,000 payments to families until the government can find a solution.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t object when his Republican colleague Sen. John Cornyn brought the legislation forward but said it was clearly there “just as show,” given the Fisher House deal made it “moot.”
“We all agreed that it was a bad thing that the government shutdown led to this added grief for the families,” Reid said Thursday. “Now we need to do what we can to prevent any further bad results and there have been plenty of them in other areas.”
Hale had explained at a September 27 press conference about the shutdown’s effect on the Pentagon that the death gratuities would not be paid.
“Families shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to bury their child,” Shannon Collins, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Collins, told NBC News. Collins was killed last weekend in Afghanistan. “Families shouldn’t have to worry about how they’re going to feed their family if they don’t go to work this week.”
Lance Cpl. Collins expressed his frustration with the U.S. government over the shutdown on his Facebook account shortly before his death. “I am waiting for the moment they breach my contract. Just waiting, I am out here in Afghan so I can’t just leave, but I can sit the f—k down and not give two sh—ts, get it together Obama and not to mention Congress,” he wrote.