Five U.S. service members died last weekend in Afghanistan. That number isn’t startling for a war that has already claimed more than 1,000 American lives, but this weekend was different.
Because of the government shutdown, those five service members’ families will not receive the $100,000 that the government owes them to pay for funeral costs and living expenses until survivor benefits kick in.
NBC reports that the “death gratuity” normally wired within 36 hours of a service member’s death to their families will not be put into effect for five families who have lost loved ones this weekend in Afghanistan.
The $100,000 covers funeral costs, a flight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for families to see their loved one’s bodies return to America and gives money for the family to live off of until survivor benefits begin.
“The government is hurting the wrong people,” one dead Marine’s mother said. Shannon Collins, whose 19-year-old son Jeremiah died Sunday in Afghanistan, doesn’t know when she will be able to retrieve her son’s body from Dover Air Force Base for his funeral. Collins also said that she doesn’t have the $10,000 it will cost to bury Jeremiah.
“I don’t understand how this can be a benefit that’s withheld. I won’t ever understand it,” she said.
Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale said Friday that the Pentagon does not have the legal authority to dispense survivor benefits funds at this time.
“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,” Hale said.
Republican aides told The Hill that they are currently working on legislation to address the death benefit issue, and that it could be put into practice as early as Wednesday. Last week, a law was passed to continue paying civilian members of the military during the shutdown.