House passes measure to pay death benefits to soldiers’ families

Fallen Soldiers

Death gratuity payments to the families of soldiers killed in action may soon be restored, bringing an end to one of the real world implications of the ongoing political stalemate in Washington.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved H.J. Res. 91 — “Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act.” This measure, sponsored by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) appropriates money to the Defense Department to pay gratuities and benefits for the families and/or survivors of American soldiers killed in action.

The House passed the measure after Defense Department acknowledged that it had delayed payments to the families of four Americans who were killed last weekend in Afghanistan. Survivors of American soldiers are entitled to a one-time, tax-free payment of $100,000 within three days of the servicemembers’ death.

The a spokesperson for Defense Department said that they lacked legal authority to make the payments because no appropriations bill had been passed by Congress. House leaders disputed that claim, noting that Congress had passed and President Barack Obama had signed a measure — the “Pay Our Military Act” — to provide the Defense Department with the authority to pay the military, including survivors benefits.

House Republicans have hinted that Defense Department is trying to use the situation to gain a political advantage in the government shutdown.

“We gave broad authority to the Department of Defense to pay all kinds of bills, including this,” said Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Tuesday, a day before the House passed the latest funding measure. “And frankly, I think it’s disgraceful that they’re withholding these benefits.”

A private foundation will pay death gratuities to the families of fallen soldiers until the impasse over government funding in Washington is resolved. In the meantime, the Honoring the Families of Fallen Soldiers Act awaits approval in the Senate.

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