Blunt: Military death benefits should never have been issue

America’s military families again will receive the $100,000 in tax-free death benefits paid when a service member is killed, after President Barack Obama signed a bill Thursday reinstating the benefits.

The Pentagon had said the budget impasse that’s caused parts of the federal government to shut down included the benefits — but members of Congress disagreed strongly.

Even before the U.S. Senate approved the House-passed bill and sent it to the president, Sen. Roy Blunt told reporters most in Congress thought a bill passed before the shutdown began Oct. 1, allowing military members to be paid during the shutdown, had included the benefits.

“The president, for whatever reason, decided — and the Justice Department decided — that that (first bill) didn’t allow the death benefit to be paid to the families of people who were lost in combat,” Blunt said during a telephone conference call with reporters Thursday morning.

He and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, both got involved in the benefits issue after a Springfield soldier was one of five killed in Afghanistan a week ago.

“He is survived by his wife and 20-month-old son,” Blunt explained. “Sen. McCaskill and I, along with a handful of our colleagues ... sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging him to, immediately, figure out how to make these payments, and get them made.”

But, until Obama’s signature on the bill Thursday, the benefits were being covered by the non-profit Fisher House Foundation.

Blunt and McCaskill both are members of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

Their letter also was signed by U.S. Sens. John Boozman, D-Ark.; Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Chris Coons and Tom Carper, both D-Del.

“It goes without saying the death gratuity is a small price to pay in order to support family members of those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country,” the senators told Hagel in their letter.

“Any delay in providing families with this essential benefit is absolutely unacceptable.”

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