Pennsylvania Congressman Lou Barletta (R-11th), today praised the action of the U.S. Senate, which passed by unanimous consent the Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act. Barletta cosponsored the bill in the House to restore death benefits to the families of fallen military personnel despite the federal government shutdown. The House had passed the bill 425-to-0 Wednesday and it had not been clear that the Senate would ever consider it.
“The injustice and tragedy of this situation was brought home to all of us in Pennsylvania by the news that Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was killed in Afghanistan last weekend,” Barletta said. “While Sgt. Hawkins was making his final sacrifice for his country and his family was just learning of his death, it should never have been that his loved ones should worry that the benefits they’re entitled to would not arrive. We are a giant step closer to fixing the problem now.”
The legislation provides for the immediate availability of money in the Treasury for death gratuities and related benefits for survivors of deceased military service members of the Department of Defense. In addition to the death gratuity, death benefits include payment or reimbursement for funeral and burial expenses, continuation of a basic allowance of housing for dependents of members dying on active duty, and payment or reimbursement for funeral travel.
The House previously passed the Pay Our Military Act before the shutdown occurred on October 1st, ensuring that active duty military personnel would be paid, and intended the Act to cover the $100,000 death gratuity program as well. Department of Defense personnel at the Pentagon interpreted the legislation as not including the death benefits, so out of an abundance of caution, the House took up the Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act. At least one non-profit organization had offered to cover the expenses absent Congressional action.
“While it was a generous and exemplary display of humanity, it should never be necessary for a charitable organization to step forward to take care of our military heroes because Washington, DC is in disarray,” Barletta said. “When this nation sends its citizens into harm’s way, we are duty bound through our elected representatives to stand by them by all means available.”
President Obama signed the bill into law last evening.
The 11th Congressional District of Pennsylvania is comprised of all of Columbia, Montour, and Wyoming counties and parts of Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin, Luzerne, Northumberland, and Perry counties. Major locations in the district include Harrisburg, Sunbury, Carlisle, Tunkhannock, Hazleton, Bloomsburg, and Danville.