With outrage growing over the Pentagon’s decision to withhold immediate payments to the families of U.S. servicemen and women killed in combat, private foundations, conservative politicians and private citizens are taking up the slack.
Among the potential donors are billionaire Donald Trump and the Fisher House Foundation, a Maryland-based group that has established a network of homes near U.S. military bases and medical centers to house the families of injured service personnel undergoing rehabilitation.
On Tuesday, the Fisher House offered to cover the $100,000 “death gratuity” payments the Pentagon normally makes within days of a service member’s combat death, according to a Fox News report.
Because that money is generally used for funeral costs, as well as the expenses for the family to travel, the foundation is basically now caring for the families of the dead the way it is already caring for the families of the living.
“After losing a loved one in service to our nation, these families should not have to endure more pain as the result of political squabbling,” Ken Fisher, the foundation’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.
“For the last 20 years, Fisher House has been there to support our military families in their time of greatest need. We are now stepping up to honor the sacrifices that have been made, and to repay a debt that is truly unpayable.”
Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. Allen West has launched a Facebook effort to both raise money for the families and start a public campaign to deluge the Pentagon switchboard with complaints.
In a tweet, West derided the skewed priorities represented by the decision to suspend the payments:
No words 2 xpress my outrage.POTUS cuts death benefits 2 families of fallen troops but FLOTUS http://t.co/f4ph7lueSS is essential.Disgusted
— Allen West (@AllenWest) October 8, 2013
The Pentagon’s decision to suspend the payments for the duration of the government shutdown was publicized Tuesday in an NBC News report. It has been widely condemned on Capitol Hill, with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blasting the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for failing to keep up the payments by sacrificing elsewhere in its budget.
“I think it’s disgraceful that they’re withholding these benefits,” Boehner said.
The House is expected to take up a bill Wednesday to deal with the payments. The bill would have to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by President Obama before taking effect.
So far, the families of four Army soldiers and one Marine have been told they would not receive the payment from the Pentagon.
Boehner said that should never have happened because he said the pre-shutdown Pay Our Military Act should have enabled the Pentagon to “pay all kinds of bills, including this.”
UPDATE: The House on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that would restore the payment, according to The Hill. The bill must now be approved by the Senate and signed by President Obama before it can take effect.
UPDATE II: The Allen West Foundation has announced on its Facebook page a donation of $2,000 to the Fisher House Foundation for its efforts to replace the “death gratuity.”
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