Government Stiffs Gold Star Families
The families of at least seventeen American servicemen and women who lost their lives in Afghanistan since October 1 have not yet received their death gratuity payments. This money, amounting to $100,000 per individual, plus an additional death benefit of $10,050, is normally paid out via wire transfer within a couple of days of a servicemember’s death. However, the Department of Defense has announced it has no plans to pay the benefit – unless Congress first changes the law.
At issue: A technical reading of the Pay Our Military Act, a law that passed both houses of Congress last week and gained the President’s signature.
The Secretary of Defense has announced that because of the way the law was written, he has no legal authority to pay death gratuity benefits, nor any other benefits payable to the families of military servicemembers, as opposed to the servicemembers themselves.
Congressional Republicans, for their part, argue that the Secretary’s interpretation of the law is flawed, and that he should pay the benefits immediately. Season to taste with partisan vitriol.
The Secretary, in this case.
Why? We simply refer to the plain text of the law, which only authorizes payment to three categories:
- Members serving under Title 10 orders, including reserve component servicemembers.
- Payments made to DoD and Department of Homeland Security personnel providing support to members of the Armed Forces (which the law restricts to those serving under Title 10 orders)
- Payments to contractors providing services to the same group of servicemembers as above.
Nothing in the law specifies a Congressional authorization for payments to family members.
The law also halts the free transportation of family members of deceased to Dover AFB to receive the remains of their loved ones.
The House expects to have an additional appropriations bill allowing the payments up for a vote by the end of the week.
Democrats have not as yet said they will support the bill. They have announced opposition to other separate appropriations bills over the last week, preferring to hang on to their bargaining power for a larger deal.
However, they readily passed the Pay Our Military Act at the first opportunity in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the President quickly signed it. Our projection is that this is not the hill the Democrats want to die on, and that the additional appropriations will be passed quickly.
That’s cold comfort to these families, though, who need the cash now. Families who lose loved ones frequently have to take extensive time off work, travel, sometimes buy suits, rent facilities for memorial services, and have a variety of other expenses. SGLI may or may not be a suitable replacement. For example, it may take longer to pay out, or it may go to a different individual than the death gratuity. In the worst-case scenario, the servicemember may choose not to take out an SGLI policy and keep a few extra dollars per month. In that case, the family is left only with the death gratuity.
To add insult to injury, the Secretary of Defense is saying the payment of residual unpaid pay and allowances, or income in respect of a decedent, is not authorized by Congress, either.