Legion: Take care of families of the fallen

The American Legion has placed its support behind legislation that will immediately reinstate the U.S. military’s death gratuity, which has become a casualty of the partial federal government shutdown.

The death gratuity provides a special tax-free payment of $100,000 to eligible survivors of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses. Today.com reported Oct. 8 that the families of five U.S. servicemembers killed over the weekend in Afghanistan were notified that they won’t be receiving the $100,000 benefit, which typically is wired to the survivors within 36 hours to assist them in meeting their financial needs immediately following a death and before other survivor benefits, if any, become available.

A Pentagon official has confirmed that, during the shutdown, the Department of Defense does not have legal authority to make death gratuity payments, or provide burial benefits or travel expenses for funeral services or dignified transfers at Dover Air Force Base.

Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives - H.R. 3274, The Fallen Heroes and Families Assistance Act - that would make appropriations available to ensure the continued payment of the death gratuity during the shutdown. The Legion sent a letter to Barber is support of the resolution.

"Congress has an obligation to put uniformed members and veterans ahead of politics, and the fact that funding for veteran’s burial programs and associated supported services like death gratuity payments are going unfunded due to political gamesmanship is unconscionable," the letter states. "Even when the government cannot agree on anything else, it must agree that taking care of the families of the fallen must never be in question."