Shutdown hurts benefits for heroes' grieving families

Day 8 of the government shutdown was like 1-7: the president and speaker of the house made appearances, but neither saw even the shadow of a solution. At least none the other would accept.

In the meantime, nearly, 459,754 federal workers are furloughed -- their jobs are not getting done. And the cost to the economy is now estimated to be $8.5 billion.

And there are new casualties of this battle: the families of Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Benefits for families of these troops killed in action have been hurt by the budget battle.
CBS News

Four Americans killed in combat in Afghanistan this weekend are on their way home for the last time. Sgt. John Peters left a wife and 20-month-old son.

Flag-draped coffins are shown inside a cargo plane at Dover Air Force Base.
U.S. Air Force

Normally they would receive a $100,000 death benefit, and the government would cover the cost of flying to Dover Air Force base in Delaware, where flag-draped caskets come home. Not now.

"Shouldn't we as a body, Republican, Democrat, no matter who we are, shouldn't we be embarrassed about this? Shouldn't we be ashamed?" asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

It had already happened to families of 17 servicemen and women killed since the government shut down -- six of them in Afghanistan.

Army Ranger Sgt. Patrick Hawkins was on his fourth tour; Private Cody Patterson on his second. First Lt. Jennifer Moreno had volunteered to serve with special operations forces in Afghanistan.

First Lt. Jennifer Moreno died serving with special operations forces in Afghanistan
CBS News

Before the shutdown, Congress passed a bill authorizing the government to keep paying and supporting the troops. But the language, according to the Pentagon's interpretation, did not permit payment of the death benefit -- a fact which Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., warned about ahead of time on Sept. 30.

"There are other unthinkable outcomes of a government shutdown on our security. Family members, military members who die in combat would not receive death benefits during a shutdown," said Levin.

The unthinkable happened -- and you know what came next -- the blame game.

Rep. Hunter, R-Calif., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel blaming the Pentagon for "a careless legal interpretation" that resulted in "mistakenly denying payments."

Private charities have stepped forward to cover the families' expenses, and Congress is scrambling to reinstate the death benefit. That could solve the problem -- but not erase the shame.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

Comments