A nonprofit group will make death benefits payments to the families of American troops killed in action, payments that have been cut off during the government shutdown, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.
The Pentagon had been unable to provide the customary benefits, including a $100,000 death payment, plus money to cover burial costs and travel to Dover Air Force Base to witness the return of a soldier’s body to American soil, during the ongoing shutdown. The nonprofit veterans group, Fisher House Foundation, will be reimbursed by the Pentagon when the government shutdown ends.
“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” Hagel said in a statement. “In the last 24 hours, however, the Department of Defense was approached by the Fisher House Foundation, which had generously offered to make payments to these families from its own funds.”
President Barack Obama was “not pleased” by reports that the Department of Defense was unable to make the payments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier Wednesday. The president had directed the Defense Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and White House lawyers to find a solution by the end of the day, Carney told reporters.
Carney added that the Pentagon informed Congress before the shutdown about its inability to pay death benefits under federal law. Congress acted before the shutdown to make sure active duty service members are paid during the shutdown, but the Pay Our Military Act did not ensure that death benefits could be paid out during the lapse in federal appropriations.
Earlier in the day the House voted unanimously to restore the government’s ability to pay the benefits, but it’s not yet clear what the Senate will do with the measure.
During the Senate’s Wednesday morning prayer, Chaplain Barry Black took Senators to task for allowing the lapse, saying, “Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying in far-away battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough.”