America’s shame; no death benefits to fallen troops.
The shutdown of the federal government is now affecting families when they are most vulnerable, denying them a $100,000 benefit to help with funeral expenses of loved ones killed while serving their country.
They gave their lives in service, but are denied death benefits.
Last Saturday, U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah M. Collins Jr., a 19-year-old from Milwaukee, died while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. On Sunday, four more troops were killed by an IED in Afghanistan.
Until the government shutdown ends, none of their families can expect to receive the $100,000 “death gratuity” promised to be wired to them within 24 to 36 hours. Grieving families also will not receive monies from the military to cover costs such as family travel to meet their loved ones returning home for burial in American flag-draped caskets through Dover Air Force Base.
The benefit is intended to help cover funeral costs and help with immediate living expenses until survivor benefits begin but these troops and others who served and died for their country have been denied this benefit. Who will pay for their funerals now?
“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.”
Survivor benefits to be cut in November.
To add insult to injury, if the government shutdown continues into November, monthly survivor benefits are in danger of being cut because the Department of Veterans Affairs has warned it will be out of cash to pay them.
The Pentagon readily acknowledges the benefits breach, but says its hands are tied.
“We’ve had a number of people die recently and we will be able to pay them, but not until the lapse of appropriation ends,” Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said in a phone briefing Friday to explain Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s interpretation of last week’s Pay Our Military Act. “We’re trying to be helpful through aid societies and others to the family members who are involved in these tragic circumstances. But unfortunately, we don’t have the legal authority to make those payments.”
What happens to active duty troops’ families?
The death gratuity’s shutdown-induced stoppage have left active duty troops, some of whom ship off to war this week, to wonder what will happen if they are killed in action, leaving their families behind? Who will pay for these funerals and death related travel expenses? How will their families cope?
“These benefits are in place to help support people who paid the ultimate price in service to their country, and for our families it is really important that these supports be there,” says Ami Neiberger-Miller of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which advocates on behalf of military families. Neiberger-Miller’s brother was killed in Iraq six years ago and she remembers how important the death gratuity was to her family at the time. “These benefits were created by design to support people during the most tragic and terrible moments of their life.”
“They are benefits that are promised by our country, by all of us, to these families,” Neiberger-Miller says. “When the serviceman swears that oath that says ‘I will protect and defend,’ we make a promise back to that person that if they do die in service to this country that we will take care of their family.”
Washington doesn’t care, but Funeral Fund does.
The reality is that the casualties of war do not stop, just because Washington does.
Surviving families have been devastated twice now — this time at the hands of a government failing those who give their lives in its service.
Right now only Washington seems to be taking care of itself.
If you or someone you know needs assistance taking care of funeral costs, we invite you to set up a donation/memorial page on www.funeralfund.com