WASHINGTON D.C. (NBC) - The shutdown of the federal government is now affecting some families when they are most vulnerable, denying them benefits to help with funeral expenses of loved ones killed while serving the country.
The families of five U.S. service members who were killed over the weekend in Afghanistan have been notified that they won't be receiving the $100,000 benefit normally wired to relatives within 36 hours of the death. The “death gratuity” is intended to help cover funeral costs and help with immediate living expenses until survivor benefits typically begin.
The money also helps cover costs to fly families to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of their loved ones in flag-draped coffins.
"Washington may be shut down, but it's still asking people to go to war,” said Gayle Tzemach Lemmon of the Council on Foreign Relations. “When people realize that they can serve and fight for their country, but that their families will get an I.O.U. until the shutdown is over, I think they're just shocked."
Marine Lance Corporal Jeremiah Collins Jr., a 19-year-old from Milwaukee, died Saturday while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. He was one of five service members killed in Afghanistan over the weekend, including four troop members who died Sunday in an IED attack.
A law passed last week to continue paying civilian members of the military during the shutdown, but does not allow for payouts of the death benefit to the families of the fallen, officials told NBC's Andrea Mitchell. One senior official said he was “disgusted” by the predicament, but believes the Pentagon may be able to correct the problem as early as Tuesday.