Government Shutdown Halts Servicemember Death Benefit
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By David Madden, Matt Rivers
DOVER, Del. (CBS) – It’s safe to say no one saw this coming amidst all the political gamesmanship: families who lose loved ones in service to their country are not getting the usual immediate federal death benefit to meet their short-term needs.
Private First Class Cody J. Patterson came home Wednesday after he was killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. Family and friends remembered the 24-year-old Oregon native at a vigil in his hometown.
“People talking about how he was always just so friendly and always trying to serve others,” a friend said.
Back in Dover, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military brass were on hand to salute a fallen hero.
The Pentagon can no longer issue the $100,000 payment (labeled a “death gratuity”) so funerals can be arranged. They can’t even fly families to Dover Air Force Base to welcome the fallen back to American soil.
“This is just the latest in a whole series of unexpected, unintended, and terrible consequences,” says US senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware).
It usually takes three days to process those death benefit checks, but the shutdown has put the processors on furlough.
“A bipartisan group of senators joined together, Republicans and Democrats, in immediately sending a letter to the Secretary of Defense to urge him and the Pentagon to do everything that they can promptly address this problem,” says Sen. Coons.
He says if the Pentagon can’t act quickly, senators will “revisit the issue.”
A non-profit group is stepping up. The Fisher House, known for providing housing to veterans’ families while soldiers receive medical treatment will pay out death benefits until the shutdown ends.
“They anticipate reimbursing us for what we spend out,” President Dave Coker said.
That means 20 families so far, and the charity has set aside $4 million to pay them and others.
“We have a simple rule the Fisher family gives us. Do the right thing,” Coker said.