WASHINGTON -- Pentagon military and civilian personnel have largely escaped furloughs during the government's shutdown through legislation signed by President Barack Obama and by orders from the defense secretary. But death benefits for the families of those killed in action -- at least five of them since Oct. 1 -- are not covered by either move.
"The Department of Defense does not currently have the authority to pay death gratuities and other key benefits for the survivors of service members killed in action," said Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog. The benefits include $100,000 to families of those killed; a 12-month basic allowance for housing, usually given in a lump sum to survivors commensurate with the rank of the service member; and burial benefits.
Congress quickly passed the Pay Our Military Act after the shutdown. It ensured that active-duty soldiers and civilian support staff members were paid for their work. Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon had concluded that most of its 400,000 civilian employees were covered by the bill.
Some House Republicans have suggested that the legislation also covered death benefits.
"The intent of Congress was to permit DOD to honor all payment and allowances to service members," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said in a letter to Mr. Hagel. "The department's decision to not make these payments is a matter of choice. And until a correction is made to the law, it is up to you to make the appropriate judgment based on a more correct interpretation."
The House Appropriations Committee is moving to get a bill to the floor to reinstate the benefits.
Such legislation is likely to have strong support in both the House and Senate. "I know that this is outrageous and disgraceful," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said of the benefits that are not being paid. "And we ought to sit down and work it out."
First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM