GOP Rep. slams DOD's death benefits denial

The Pentagon made a “careless legal interpretation” by denying death benefits during the government shutdown, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said Tuesday.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Hunter said the Pentagon was ignoring congressional intent by not granting the death gratuities to families of service members who are killed.

Hunter and other lawmakers argue that the military pay law passed in the hours before the government shutdown took effect last week allows the death benefits to be paid out.

“The Department of Defense, through a careless legal interpretation, is now mistakenly denying payments of Death Gratuity and other benefits to the families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice,” Hunter wrote.

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Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement Monday that the Pentagon “does not currently have the authority” to pay the death benefits, typically a cash payment of $100,000 paid within three days of the death of a service member.

Hunter, however, argued that the Pentagon wasn’t making the payments as a “matter of choice.”

“Since DOD has determined that it cannot provide this benefit, I am at a loss about why DOD did not take a more active role in notifying Congress and insisting that changes in law occur immediately,” Hunter wrote.

The payment of death gratuities is one of several Republican criticisms of the Pentagon after the military pay bill was signed into law last week.

Several GOP lawmakers also complained that it took the Pentagon until Saturday to determine whether more than 300,000 Defense Department civilians could return to work. They have also questioned whether bonuses like danger pay will go out during the shutdown.

Service members, as well as Pentagon civilians who working, are receiving their regular paychecks during the shutdown thanks to the military pay law.

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