A travesty, needless to say, although it appears to be more the result of a drafting error than any sort of oversight or deliberate snub. Remember, the one exception to the Democrats’ rule about not agreeing to small GOP funding bills targeted at individual departments is the military. Congress passed a bill on the eve of the shutdown to make sure that troops continued to get paid. Per Blackfive, House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon issued a statement saying that he thought the bill covered all sorts of military payments, including the roughly $100,000 “death gratuity” paid to the family of a fallen soldier. Quote: “Without question, that was our clear intent.” And no doubt it was. Why on earth would they agree to pay troops in the field but not the bereaved families of the fallen? If they’re terrified of the politics of American soldiers going unpaid, imagine their terror at the thought of wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, and above all children being left momentarily broke due to a soldier being killed in action.
The Pentagon studied the law, though, and decided that no, it doesn’t cover the “death gratuity,” nor reimbursement for family members to fly to Dover AFB to retrieve their loved one’s body. Right now, all of that’s on hold. Why the Pentagon would read the law that exactingly given that Congress’s intent was clear and the fact that surely no one would have sued to block payment of the gratuities had they gone ahead with it, I have no idea. But here we are:
“It is upsetting because my husband died for his country, and now his family is left to worry,” said Ashley Peters of Springfield, Mo., whose husband, Jeremy, was a special agent assigned to the Army’s 5th Military Police Battalion and was among the five killed. “My husband always said if something happened to him we would be taken care of.”…
“If Congress were trapped in a car that sunk down in a river, I would swim to the window, and I would look them all in the eye and say, ‘Suck water,’” said Randall Patterson, the father of Private [Cody] Patterson. The father used an expletive to characterize members of Congress who “are still getting paid.”…
The mother and brother of Peters, the special agent from the 5th Military Police Battalion, said that they were too upset to talk. His step-grandfather, Peters Jerry, said that the sergeant was getting out of the military after this tour, so that he could be home more with his 20-month-old son.
“It will be devastating,” Jerry said of the delay in the death gratuity. He said that he blamed Republicans and the Tea Party…
Also suspended is a year’s worth of housing allowance, typically paid in a lump sum to the surviving spouse or dependent children of a soldier. For a sergeant in the Washington area with dependents, it amounts to more than $2,000 per month.
At least one military charity has stepped into the breach to cover the costs of airfare to Dover while they’re waiting for Congress to get its act together. Blackfive notes that Pfc. Cody Patterson’s family in particular is in “severe financial distress” and has links up to several charities where you can donate. This will, though, hopefully all be resolved by this time tomorrow; given the media attention to the “death gratuity” lapsing and the understandable public horror over it, House members are already putting together a new funding bill. Presumably it’ll be passed through the lower chamber tonight and the Senate tomorrow. If it isn’t, someone will have to answer.
Here’s video from Congress of members shocked that it’s come to this, including a few seconds of McCain — who, despite McKeon’s apparent good faith and the House’s attempt to solve the problem ASAP, naturally appears to be blaming Republicans for causing the shutdown to begin with.
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