No death benefits for military during shutdown

In the event of a government shutdown, the Pentagon would have to delay payments of the $100,000 death benefit that families receive if a military service member dies in the line of duty, a senior defense official said Friday,

Families would get the money eventually after the government re-opens, but they could have problems paying expenses, including for the funerals, the official said, adding that the Pentagon will reach out to various military aid agencies to help those who need it.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel details, said as many as 150 death benefits are paid out every month.

The death benefit is one of many Pentagon payments and services that could be curtailed if the government shuts down at midnight Friday — and they range from paychecks to performances by military bands and the famed Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels air demonstration squadrons.

According to the Pentagon, if a shutdown ends by next Tuesday the military could get full paychecks on April 15th. But if it continues longer than that, they would get only partial pay. More than 150,000 U.S. troops are deployed to wars overseas, and thousands of others are assigned to other operations including the Libya mission and aid to Japan in the wake of the earthquake.

The official said the department would move as quickly as possible to get out a special check with the owed pay as soon as possible after the government reopens. And a number of financial institutions and military assistance groups may work with the families to help get needed aid and to avoid credit or billing problems.

While other government agencies may see attendance drop on Monday if there is a shutdown, the Pentagon will still be nearly full. The roughly 16,000 military members will go to work, as will about half of the 7,000 civilians whose jobs are in the massive five-sided building.

Altogether, about 400,000 of the Defense Department's 800,000 civilian employees will be furloughed, while all military members will report to work, officials said.

Defense leaders have stressed all along that all warfighting and national security operations would continue without interruption. And, according to guidance put out by the Pentagon, any jobs or operations linked to those key military activities, including training, exercises, emergency response, recruiting, logistical support, food, supplies, medical care, and suicide and substance abuse counseling, will all continue. Funerals at Arlington Cemetery will also go on.

Commissaries, however, may be open for troops at war overseas, but not at other military bases. Officials said that efforts will be made to insure that food does not spoil or go to waste.

Local bases will also have the flexibility to shift military members to cover for furloughed workers if deemed necessary, such as the operation of mess halls, physical training or child care. As an example, members of the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels would report to work and could then be tapped for other jobs.

Most military contracts that were previously approved and appropriated will continue, but officials said it could get very complicated and more disruptive if the shutdown continues for weeks, rather than days.