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Military foundation offers to cover death benefits as lawmakers consider fix

 

A private foundation has stepped forward to cover death benefits for the families of troops who've been killed in combat after the Pentagon confirmed the payments have been suspended as a result of the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Tuesday that the Maryland-based Fisher House Foundation has offered to cover the $100,000 payments that the government typically pays out to families within three days of a soldier's death.

"I am so grateful that the Fisher House Foundation volunteered to help military families to make sure there is no funding gap during a time of unimaginable grief, " Manchin said in a statement, adding that the organization has agreed to cover flights, hotels and other incidentals for family members.

The Pentagon says that as long as the budget impasse lasts, it will not be able to pay death benefits to the families of troops who've been killed in combat. The bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the budget deadlock began will arrive at Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to attend. 

“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.”

Speaker John Boehner blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for withholding the payments. He said Congress gave the Defense Department broad authority to continue paying bills such as the death payments in a law passed just before the partial government shut down on Oct. 1.

House lawmakers are planning to vote Wednesday on a bill to restore funding for the payments. Speaker John Boehner blasted the Obama administration Tuesday for withholding the payments.

Boehner claimed a bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last week to pay America's troops should have given the Pentagon the latitude "to pay all kinds of bills, including this."

"I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits," Boehner said, urging Obama to sign the bill that the House will take up on Wednesday.

The bill would still have to pass the Senate before arriving on Obama's desk. If that bill fails to pass, the Pentagon says, families will be reimbursed once Congress passes an appropriations bill.

In the Senate, members of both parties lamented the impasse.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the lack of compensation for the families of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan over the weekend was "appalling."

"Shouldn't we be ashamed?" said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

"Your government has let you down in a time of your need," echoed fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, describing what his message to the families would be. Graham blamed Democrats, Republicans and Obama for the situation.

The Pentagon says it has specific instructions from its budget office not to make payments for deaths that occurred after 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2013.

The $100,000 payment is being withheld for the families of four soldiers -- two of them Army Rangers -- and one Marine, who were killed while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. The bodies of the four soldiers will be returned to Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday.

Relatives of 25-year-old 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno; 24-year-old Pfc. Cody J. Patterson; 24-year-old Special Agent Joseph M. Peters; 25-year-old Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins; and 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Jeremiah M. Collins, Jr. would have otherwise received the payment within three days of the death.

Fox News' Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.