Charity to cover benefits for fallen troops' families
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration, scrambling to tamp down a controversy over suspended death benefits for the families of fallen troops, announced Wednesday that a charity would pick up the costs of the payments during the government shutdown.
"The Fisher House Foundation will provide the families of the fallen with the benefits they so richly deserve," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement, adding that the Pentagon would reimburse the foundation after the shutdown ended.
Hagel said Fisher House, which works with veterans and their families, had approached the Pentagon about making the payments. The Defense Department typically pays families about $100,000 within three days of a service member's death, but officials say the shutdown was preventing those benefits from being paid.
The failure to make the payments has stirred outrage on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Obama spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the president was "disturbed" when he found out the death benefits had been suspended and demanded an immediate solution.
The Republican-led House unanimously passed legislation on Wednesday to restore the death benefits. But it's unclear whether the Democratic-led Senate will take up the measure or whether Obama would sign it. Obama has threatened to veto other legislation passed by the House in recent days that would reopen individual funding streams, arguing that a piecemeal approach to ending the shutdown was unacceptable and that the entire government must be reopened.
Amid the controversy, Hagel made a rare trip Wednesday to Dover Air Force Base for the arrival of remains of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
The soldiers whose remains were returned were First Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego; Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle; Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore.; and Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo.