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Blunt: Military death benefits should never have been issue

Blunt: Military death benefits should never have been issue

October 12th, 2013 in News

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."