US Senator Roy Blunt reiterated concerns Thursday of the Defense Department’s claim that they don’t have the legal authority during the government shutdown to provide immediate death gratuity payments to the families of fallen soldiers. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has more.
Update at 8:10 a.m. Fri: President Obama signed a bill reinstating death gratuity benefits into law Thursday night.
Update at 4:10 p.m.: The US Senate has approved a measure that would reinstate the death gratuity benefits. The measure had already received unanimous approval from the House Wednesday. The Associated Press reports that White House spokesman Jay Carney, referencing the agreement with Fisher House, said "the legislation is not necessary." He did not say if President Obama would sign the bill.
The Republican Senator from Missouri began his conference call discussing the successful sports teams in the state, noting that they’re “all doing better than the Congress and the President are doing right now.”
Among the struggles during the partial government shutdown, now in its 10th day, is the inability from the Defense Department to provide a tax free payment of $100,000 to eligible survivors of members of the Armed Forces who die while on active duty. That includes the family of Special Agent Joseph M. Peters, of Springfield, who was one of four killed Oct. 6 in Afghanistan.
“To not be able to figure out how to get that done is an indication that we’re not doing the things that outa be happening.”
Senators Blunt, along with Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill – two members of the Armed Services Committee - and others sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagal, calling for a quick solution.
In the meantime, the private foundation Fisher House has agreed to make payments to those families and then be reimbursed by the government once they reopen. The organization is known for their network of more than 60 comfort homes on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers in the US and Europe.
Vice President for Operations Brian Gawne says he expects an agreement for reimbursement with the government to be finalized today, after which they can immediately send out checks to beneficiaries.
“Our goal is to be as seamless as possible in the process,” Gawne says. “The most important people to those families is that casualty assistance officer that’s out there in the field. And our job is just get him the money.”
Sen. Blunt said Thursday that an agreement to restart the government will not leave everyone satisfied, but the consequences of the shutdown are starting to show, comparing the first few days of the shutdown to what it’s like in the first few hours without electricity.
“It doesn’t seem too bad; people wonder why it was they really were so dependent on electricity, but we’re gonna get here pretty quickly to a place where we were yesterday, to where things that even the Congress thinks it’s taken care of like sending what we believe was the right direction for military operations,” Blunt said.
He cited other issues to possibly arise like the arrival of harvest checks to farmers, which will need to be co-signed by the Farm Service Agency.
Blunt also stated he feels the debt ceiling would have been the better place to negotiate that “has less imminent impact on your people than the shutdown did.”
Meanwhile, House Republicans Thursday afternoon, a week before the deadline, offered a six-week extension of the debt ceiling in exchange for negotiations on other fiscal matters. Their proposal, however, does not include a continuing resolution to restart the federal government.