After an uproar on Capitol Hill over the fact that the survivors of fallen servicemen are being denied their promise payments because of the government shutdown, the Defense Department on Wednesday announced a new partnership with a nonprofit to help those families.
The Pentagon said this week that because of the government shutdown that started on Oct. 1, it no longer has authority to pay death gratuities -- which is typically a cash payment of $100,000 -- to the survivors of servicemembers killed in action.
On Tuesday, the Fisher House Foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit, agreed to offer the impacted military families an advance grant to cover expenses like travel and funeral costs until the government could reimburse those costs.} }
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said his department has entered into an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation to provide those military families with the full set of benefits they have been promised.
"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 in a statement.
Hagel stressed that the Pentagon warned Congress about this issue before the shutdown and that after the shutdown, the department "pursued every tool and option at our disposal" to try to provide the benefits.
Since the Fisher House came forward with its offer, the Pentagon confirmed with the Office of Management and Budget that it can enter into a contract with the nonprofit and reimburse it later.
"Our men and women in uniform must know that the Department will always fulfill its responsibilities to them and to their families," Hagel said. "Congress has responsibilities as well, and it has abdicated them."
The remains ofin Afghanistan over the weekend arrived Wednesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware; their families were not expected to receive the death gratuity. Hagel attended the arrival of the remains on Wednesday and met privately with the families.
Members of Congress starting Tuesday started decrying the missed payments, and the House on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill to restore the death benefits. The Senate was expected to support the measure. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama "was very disturbed to learn of this problem" and expected a solution by the end of the day.