Defense Department accepts charity’s offer to cover death benefits during shutdown

Families of fallen service members will continue to receive death benefits in spite of the partial government shutdown, after the Department of Defense accepted an offer from a private charity to fund the payments.

The Defense Department said it would be unable to provide benefits during the shutdown, but would give $100,000 checks to the families of service members within 72 hours of a loved one’s death to lessen expenses such as funeral costs. The announcement drew sharp condemnation from members of Congress. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain¬†said he felt “ashamed” and “embarrassed” that Congress could not agree on a deal to fund those benefits.

Following the report, the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free stays at donated homes for the families of ill or injured veterans receiving treatment, offered to fund the benefits until the partial government shutdown ends — with the understanding that the grant would be repaid.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Defense is entering into an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation that will allow the federal government to provide the family members of fallen service members with the full set of benefits they have been promised, including a $100,000 death gratuity payment,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner,” Hagel said.¬†“The Department has no higher priority than taking care of our service members and their families. Our men and women in uniform must know that the Department will always fulfill its responsibilities to them and to their families. Congress has responsibilities as well, and it has abdicated them.”

The House voted unanimously on Wednesday to fund those benefits in an individual bill. But that effort is likely to go nowhere in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid continues to reject the House’s piecemeal-funding strategy, insisting instead on a comprehensive bill that would fully fund both the government and Obamacare.

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