DOD Not Paying Death Benefits to Families of Troops Killed in Action

Susan Jones | October 9, 2013 | 6:09am EDT
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President Barack Obama salutes the casket of a fallen soldier during a middle-of-the-night visit to Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009.

( - The Defense Department website is up and running, unlike most government websites; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently ordered most of the furloughed DOD civilians to return to work; and as reported, the U.S. Army this week contracted to buy a $47,174 mechanical bull.

So why can't Hagel continue paying death benefits to the families of U.S. troops who were killed in action after Sept. 30?

He can, says House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

"Last week, the Congress passed the Pay Our Military Benefits Act. We gave broad authority to the Department of Defense to pay all kinds of bills, including this. And frankly, I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits," Boehner said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Boehner said the House "is going to act specifically on this" on Wednesday -- "and I hope the president will sign it."

But Democrats, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), put all of the blame on Republicans: "The Republican government shutdown has caused those death benefits not to be paid," she told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday.

The families of fallen soldiers normally receive $100,000 in taxpayer money to pay for such things as funerals and for travel to Dover Air Force Base, where the remains are returned home.

At least five Americans have given their lives for this country since the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.


Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a war veteran who now serves on the House Armed Services Committee, says he has written to Hagel, reminding him that Congress gave him the authority to continue the death benefits by passing the Pay Our Military Act on Sept. 30 -- "pre-shutdown."

"We actually saw this coming," Hunter told Fox News's Megyn Kelly Tuesday night. "That is why we passed that bill. This is an on-purpose, in-your-face, middle finger as you said eloquently, to the military families. This is nothing other than that."

Duncan said the Pentagon's refusal to pay benefits is "shameful" and "embarrassing." "And they need to change it immediately. That is what needs to happen here. It needs to get fixed tonight. Chuck Hagel should say listen, it is fixed. We're going to pay them. Otherwise, Congress is going to pass this tomorrow. It's going to have to go through the Senate, you know, they take three or four days. That is three of four more days that this families are not going to have with what the government owes them...DOD needs to get this right for a change and quit making stupid bone-headed mistakes like this."

According to Fox News, the Pentagon said it has specific instructions from its budget office not to make payments for deaths that happened after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2013.

But Hunter said Congress "explicitly asked" if military death benefits for families would be covered when they passed the legislation on Sept. 30. "And they said yes," he told Kelly. "This is DOD trying to  cover their own tail on this, they made the wrong decision and they need to fix it. And there should be pressure from every single American and every single news channel and every single congressman that DOD gets this right. Because there is no better person than that person who gives their life for this nation. And it is like I said, saddening, it's depressing, it's embarrassing and despicable that DOD would try to stand by this. Because every day that they wouldn't admit that they're wrong, families are not giving what's due them."

Hunter said the Pentagon's mistake"would be easy to fix: "They don't have to wait for Congress."

An emotional Oliver North, also appearing on Fox News Tuesday night, agreed: "It does not take an act of Congress to authorize this tavel by the dependents of the families of our dead or our wounded. All it takes is a commander-in-chief with a conscience."

On Tuesday, the Defense Department announced that four American soldiers died Oct. 6, in Zhari District, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.

Killed were: 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego, Calif., assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pa., assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.; Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo., assigned to the 5th Military Police Battalion, Vicenza, Italy; Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore., assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Fort Benning, Ga.

And on Monday, the DOD announced that 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins, Jr.,  of Milwaukee, Wis., died Oct. 5 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

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