An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Cody J. Patterson at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Wednesday. According to the Department of Defense, Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore., died Oct. 6, 2013 in Zhari district, Afghanistan of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
(USA TODAY) -- President Obama was taking emergency steps Wednesday to restore death
benefits for military families that have been delayed because of the
ongoing government shutdown.
The House voted 425-0 to restore the death benefits, but prospects for the same action in the Senate remained unclear.
actions came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew to Dover AIr Force
Base, Del., on Wednesday to meet, before television cameras, the remains
of four soldiers killed Sunday in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan.
with a 19-year-old Marine who died Saturday, the five are among the
first whose families will not receive a $100,000 death gratuity along
with other expenses unless the funding is restored or the government
Congress continued grappling with the issue, which has
become a symbol of government paralyzed by opposing political views,
unable to provide earned benefits even for those who have given their
lives for their country.
Even if the issue of these benefits are
resolved, a broader threat continues that $6.25 billion in veterans
benefits could be denied to more than 5 million veterans, troops,
families and children of deceased military members if the shutdown
continues through the end of October, according to Veterans Affairs
Secretary Eric Shinseki.
"I just didn't think you would allow this
happen," Shinseki told members of Congress about the shutdown during
testimony Wednesday. "This is not a game."
As Congress grapples
with how to keep earned benefits flowing to those who have served in
uniform, events Wednesday became a mix of political theater,
recriminations and a litany of dire consequences should the impasse
As the shutdown continues, House Republicans have passed
legislation funding individual government departments or specific needs
Democrats argue that the full government should re-opened.
happening now is the House of Representatives-which refuses to reopen
the government-is scurrying to pass a little bill to take care of these
families," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. "It isn't
nearly enough, because the embarrassment of this government shutdown
goes beyond this grievous situation with these bereaving families."
Republicans have approved piecemeal funding bills to reopen popular
government programs and facilities, but only one measure--to make sure
the U.S. military is paid during the shutdown--has been approved by the
Senate and signed by President Obama.
House Republicans in an
emotional floor debate blamed the Obama administration for the lapse in
death benefits . "This is a disgrace. An intentional policy of pain,"
said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., a veteran.
"They broke a sacred
trust with our U.S. men and women who are on the front lines," said Rep.
Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., also a veteran.
House Democrats joined
with Republicans in support of the measure, but Rep. Pete Visclosky,
D-Ind., the top Democrat on the Defense Appropriations panel, called on
the House to reopen the entire federal government.
According to Durbin, 17 service members have died since the shutdown began, including five over the weekend.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reiterated his insistence that the
full government be up and running in a day if the House approves a
Senate-passed stopgap measure to fund the government.
Republicans are holding out support because they are seeking negotiations with Democrats to reach a broader budget agreement.
Chaplain Barry Black, a retired Navy admiral, used his daily opening
prayer in the Senate chamber to criticize lawmakers for the lapse in
death benefits, underscoring the emotional tenor of the debate. "Lord,
when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the
families of children dying on far away battlefields, it's time for our
lawmakers to say enough is enough."