Shutdown Prevents Death Benefits for Families of 4 Fallen Soldiers

Shutdown denies death benefits to families of fallen soldiers.

Army team carries the flag-draped transfer case down the ramp of an aircraft at Dover Air Force Base Aug. 14, 2013. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Despite the shutdown, American troops continue to fight abroad. Yet, the families of soldiers killed in action are being denied funds to pay for the funerals of their loved one because of the shutdown.

The government provides a "death gratuity" of $100,000 to the families of dead soldiers, within 36 hours of the death, to pay for funeral costs and immediate living expenses. This lump sum is also used to cover the cost of flying family members to Dover Air Force Base to receive the body of their fallen soldier in "a flag draped coffin," USA Today reports.

The families of four soldiers, who died this weekend when their unit was attacked with explosives in Kandahar, Afghanistan, were not offered the burial aid. Instead, they were expected to use their own money to meet the body in Dover due to the fact "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," Defense Department spokesperson Carl Woog told the New York Times on Tuesday.

[READ: Teacher Furloughs Rock US Military Academies]

The blame game also inserted itself into the situation as some accused the Pentagon of choosing not to make the payments.

"The intent of Congress was to permit Department Of Defense to honor all payment and allowances to service members," Representative Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, of the Pay Our Military Act passed by Congress last week. The law allowed all active duty soldiers and civilian staff members to be paid for their work.

But the Department of Defense says its interpretation of the law means that while they are prepared to pay the families once the shutdown is over, they cannot make these payments during the shutdown and it is up to Congress to do something about it.

The families of the military men are upset by what they see as a lack of respect for their loved ones' sacrifice and service.

"For the sacrifice our kids are making, at the age that they're making them, I don't understand how this can be a benefit that's withheld. I won't ever understand it," Shannon Collins, mother of the fallen Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah M. Collins Jr., told USA Today.

Lawmakers must "re-evaluate and determine the priority" of funding for government programs during the shutdown, she said.

Families aren't the only ones appalled by this situation. Politicians on both sides of the aisle and regular citizens have voiced their outrage.

[MORE: Shutdown Damages Military More Than Staff Reductions]

"I say to those families, 'Your government's let you down at a time when you're in need,'" Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "There is no excuse for this."

"It's an unbearable loss," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. told the Senate Tuesday.

While politicians talked about their disappointment over the handling of the deaths, the Fisher House Foundation did something about it. On Tuesday Fisher House offered to pay for all flight and hotel costs of the military families affected by the situation. They also said they would give advance grants to the families until the government could pay them.

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

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