An Iraq and Afghanistan veteran in Congress called the Defense Department’s decision to suspend death gratuities to survivors of service members killed in action “boneheaded” and the equivalent of flipping off military families.
Lawmakers say that they gave the Pentagon authority to pay death gratuities to survivors of service members killed in action in an emergency appropriations measure — and were shocked when the Defense Department suspended the payments. The Pentagon said the decision was based on an “interpretation” of the Pay Out Military Act, an emergency appropriations bill passed unanimously on the eve of the shutdown.
“I want to take you back to 2004, the Iraq war was going on, I was in Fallujah, our Defense Department in order to save money was bringing back the bodies of our dead soldiers in rented cargo airplanes, there was an iconic picture of these flag-draped casket being forklifted out of our cargo plane in Dover, Delaware. That is the type of decision that the Defense Department makes. Congress had to explicitly tell the Defense Department you will no longer do that. They will have a military escort, in an honor escort all the way back to their hometown,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said last night on Fox.
“So fast forward nine years, and here we are and here is what happened. This is a boneheaded decision that dishonors our fallen brothers and sisters. And it also does this, it breaks the trust that our government has with those men and women that served on the front lines and are forgotten right now because of the shutdown.”
Hunter said there’s a problem with Secretary Chuck Hagel’s assertion that they had no choice under the law than to suspend the $100,000 payouts.
“Here is a problem with this. On the 28th of last month, pre-shutdown, we pass to pay our military — they passed through the House, through the Senate and the president signed it on the 30th of last month. That does cover this. You know, Congress a lot of things we’re not always stupid. We actually saw this coming. That is why we passed that bill. This is an on-purpose, in-your-face middle finger as you said, eloquently to the military families. This is nothing other than that,” the congressman said.
“Because they were told explicitly by us. You can pay this. This is why we’re passing this act unanimously through the House and the Senate signed by the president, they are being careless, and this really does, this is reminiscent of them sending back bodies in cargo planes so they could be forklifted, instead of with an honor guard, and the way we ought to threat our men and women… The family doesn’t get to fly to Dover now. If they pay out through their own dime.”
Hunter said the DoD needs to think about the situation these families may now be in.
“Your loved one is serving, you’re on military housing, you’re barely getting by the economy isn’t great, things are expensive at Camp Pendleton and San Diego, because it is San Diego. You no longer have your sole breadwinner, you will no longer have anything. So, you will be living without pay. You have kids. I mean, that is the situation that the government is putting these guys in, and families, and it is pure bureaucracy. It is shameful, it’s embarrassing,” he said.
“And they need to change it immediately. That is what needs to happen here. It needs to get fixed tonight. Chuck Hagel should say listen, it is fixed. We’re going to pay them. Otherwise, Congress is going to pass this tomorrow. It’s going to have to go through the Senate, you know, they take three or four days. That is three of four more days that this families are not going to have with what the government owes them. And that they were expecting to actually live their lives every day. DOD needs to get this right for a change and quit making stupid boneheaded mistakes like this,” Hunter continued.
“…Why do they make the decision to send back bodies in caskets in rented cargo planes that were not even military planes? I mean, why do they buy $80,000 toilet seats? Why do they have program after program that does not work? The reason is they make bad decisions sometimes. And this is one of those bad decisions, instead of just confessing up and saying sorry, we got this wrong. We’re going to fix it. For some reason they are digging their heels in. And I’m not sure why, frankly. Because it is very easy for them to say, look, we have three other lawyers here, they say, we can do it, let’s just pay it and get this over with. They could do that now. Literally tonight, this money could be wire transferred in the morning to these families. It is that easy for them to fix this. They don’t have to wait for Congress.”