Obama Signs Bill to Reinstate Troop Death Benefits During the Shutdown

Troops say a prayer beside the transfer case containing the remains of Army Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, of Philpot, Ky., at Dover AFB in March.

AP Photo

AA Font size + Print

Troops say a prayer beside the transfer case containing the remains of Army Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, of Philpot, Ky., at Dover AFB in March.

President Obama signed the bill Thursday after the Fisher House Foundation offered to pay death benefits to families of fallen troops during the shutdown. By Stephanie Gaskell

President Obama signed a bill to allow the families of United States troops killed during the shutdown to receive death benefits. The relief for those families comes one day after the Fisher House Foundation had agreed to foot the bill until the government shutdown ends, and more than a week after a previous bill was passed but without clear plans to keep the benefits going.

The “death gratuity” includes a $100,000 payment to families within 36 hours to cover burial and travel expenses. It was shut off when the government shut down. Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act, but the legislation was so brief and vague, the administration determined that it didn’t allow the Defense Department to administer the benefits during the shutdown. At least 29 active-duty troops have died since Oct. 1, including six killed in action in Afghanistan. 

After massive public outrage following the Afghan deaths last weekend, the Fisher House Foundation, which builds homes for families of wounded troops to stay in while they recover, contacted Pentagon officials and cut a deal with Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter to cover the costs and be reimbursed once the shutdown is over. Fisher House CEO Ken Fisher told Defense One that he was just doing the right thing. “This segment of society, when they raise their hand, they give an oath and the oath is to defend this nation — with my life if necessary. But this country also takes an oath that if you’re wounded we’ll take care of you; if you don’t make it home, we’ll take care of your family.”

[Click for Defense One‘s complete shutdown coverage.]

At a House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee hearing, on Thursday, several members of Congress accused the Pentagon of using the military to play politics.

“I believe the guidance issued by Comptroller [Robert] Hale was based on a deliberate decision by the Department of Defense to misinterpret the Pay Our Military Act for political purposes,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who introduced the bill in the days before the shutdown deadline. “My bill cast a wide net, as wide a net as possible to ensure that the department’s civilian personnel, all of whom are necessary to support military operations, can report to work.”

But Hale said the department was following legal guidance from the Justice Department. “I resent your remarks,” Hale said. “I acted on the advice of attorneys and our best reading of a loosely worded law.”

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.