In what veterans call an outrageous slight after the ultimate sacrifice, the shuttered federal government is withholding a $100,000 payment normally wired to relatives of fallen soldiers — including the families of five killed in Afghanistan over the weekend.
The payment, known as the death gratuity, is typically sent to families of the fallen within three days to help them cover funeral costs or travel to meet the flag-draped coffins of their loved ones.
The families of five American service members killed over the weekend in Afghanistan have been notified that they will not receive the payment. A relative of one of the five called it “devastating.”
The families of five U.S. troops killed overseas this weekend will not receive the usual “death gratuity” due to the government shutdown. A typical $100,000 compensation is wired to families within 36 hours to help with funeral and other expenses.
“Impacting grieving families when they are at their absolute weakest point is just disgusting,” said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest organization of combat veterans in the United States.
“Veterans, military personnel and now their families are not to be used as leverage in this political game of blame,” he said. He called on leaders in Congress to “put the country ahead of their politics.”
Congress passed a law last week to pay the military during the shutdown. Pentagon officials studied it to assess whether it might cover the death gratuity and determined that it was not possible, a defense official told NBC News on Tuesday.
Republican aides in Congress said that they were drafting legislation to restore the death gratuity, and that it could be put to a vote as early as Wednesday. The aides also said that they believed that last week’s law had covered the payment.
But for now, the $100,000 payment, meant to tide families over until military survivor benefits kick in, is being withheld for relatives of the killed over the weekend in Afghanistan, four from the Army and one from the Marines.