Gov't Shutdown Freezes Benefits for Families of Fallen Soldiers

Members of Congress expressed outrage Tuesday that families of fallen U.S. military personnel are being denied death benefits while Democrats and Republicans grope for a way to end the partial government shutdown.

Army Ranger Sergeant Patrick Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania was killed in Afghanistan on October 6. While his family would normally receive a $100,000 “death gratuity” to help them pay for the funeral and other costs, his family and numerous others throughout the country can’t access those funds due to the shutdown.

The Pentagon typically pays out $100,000 within three days of a soldier's death. But it says the shutdown means there is no authority now to pay the money.

“Washington may be shut down,” said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council of Foreign Relations. "But it’s still asking people to go to war. When people realize that they can serve and fight for their country but that their families will get an IOU until the shutdown is over, I think they’re shocked.”

House Speaker John Boehner blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for withholding the payments. He said Congress gave the Defense Department broad authority to continue paying bills such as the death payments in a law passed just before the government shut down on Oct. 1.

“Frankly, I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters.

He said the House would address the problem Wednesday, and he called on President Barack Obama to sign the bill into law. Senate Democrats have been hesitant to pass piecemeal legislation, insisting the entire government be reopened.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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