WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon), the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, made the following comments in response to the Pentagon's decision to freeze death benefits for families of the fallen:
"I am very concerned that the Administrations attempt to play politics with the lives of Americans has extended even to military families who have lost loved ones.
Ten days ago, before the government was partially shut down, the House and the Senate passed a bill to pay troops, civilians, and contractors in DOD. The President signed it into law on September 30.
Amazingly, Pentagon lawyers seem to have gone out of their way to interpret that death benefits to surviving family members of fallen service members were not covered in this bill. Rather than squabble with lawyers, the House arranged an immediate vote to make it abundantly clear that such benefits should be paid. It passed the House today by a bipartisan vote of 425 to 0.
Just as the House was about to vote on the measure, the White House announced that the President had instructed the Pentagon to fix the issue, and Secretary of Defense Hagel issued a statement this afternoon that his lawyers would allow an outside group to provide the benefits temporarily and then be reimbursed.
This situation is ridiculous and unnecessary. The White Houses failure to develop a solution to a problem that they manufactured before the House forced the issue seems to be further evidence that the Administration is on a campaign to make the partial lapse of appropriations as painful and as dramatic as possible. If there is any group that should be exempt from such maneuvers, it should be families of those lost in battle.
Secretary Hagel should focus all of his energies on getting the President to support and the Senate to pass the House-passed bill without delay."
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