In what seems a rare moment, bi-partisan bickering among officials has been interrupted over the Defense Department's decision to halt so-called "death gratuities" and other key benefits for survivors of service members killed in action.
Reports being made in media regarding the matter, one from USnews, indicate the level of agreement as senators "sat in almost total silence" as two respected members denounced the benefit suspension which was said to have been linked to the shutdown.
From local SanDiego6news, is the reaction from representative Duncan Hunter on the DoD interpretation of the law passed before the shutdown to prevent such a thing. Said Hunter in the interview:
"Prior to the shutdown on [September 28] the House of Representatives, and the Senate and the President signed into law the 'Pay Our Militaries Act' ... so that took care of this, it took care ... our military got pay during the shutdown and frankly, made sure that the military couldn't be used as a 'political pawn' in the government shutdown negotiation. That all happened and the President signed the law on [September 30] before the shutdown."
DoD and DOJ attorneys at fault?
Hunter further explained that since October 1, six soldiers have been killed and the DOD "... lawyers there interpreted incorrectly the law that we passed and the President signed, and took it to mean none of these benefits get paid."
Familes of the fallen, therefore, must incur the financial hardship if they wish to meet their loved ones arriving at Dover, Delaware, Hunter stated.
In answer to a followup question, Hunter said:
"The President can fix this with a stroke of his pen.Yes, and the DoD can fix this.... This is not a hard fix."
And a quote, confirming that grieving families of war dead will not be receiving the $100,000 payout from the Pentagon during the shutdown, was published on the PJmedia website.
The Defense Department is cited in the story as stating:
"... that despite the recall of most civilians, and the resumption of many activities across the Department of Defense, there are critical programs and benefits that remain halted. For example, the department does not currently have the authority to pay death gratuities for the survivors of service members killed in action – typically a cash payment of $100,000 paid within three days of the death of a service member."
Hagel shows up in Dover
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel did show up at Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday according to the HuffingtonPost. The report mentions that the Obama Administration has been criticized for suspending the emergency death payments and adds that it was the Pentagon which stated that those payments to families of fallen soldiers are "... not legally allowed during the government shutdown."
Rep. Hunter, who also wrote to Hagel on Tuesday complaining about the suspension of the $100,000 death benefit, is said in the story from the Post to have accused the Pentagon of making that decision on the basis of a "careless legal interpretation."
Obama Administration officials say this decision was "... based on a legal review by government lawyers, including the Justice Department," states the Post.