Boehner: ‘It's disgraceful’ Pentagon not paying death benefits

Republicans have blasted the Obama administration for not providing the death gratuities to the White House since the shutdown began, arguing that the Pentagon can do so under the military pay bill that passed in the house before the shutdown.

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Pentagon officials said the law does not give them the authority to pay out the $100,000 to the survivors of troops killed.

“We have some heart-rending situations — that we are not allowed, by law, to pay death gratuities,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters last week, adding that the “Pay Our Military Act” did not change the situation.

“We've had a number of people die recently and we will be able to pay them, but not until the lapse of appropriation ends,” Hale said.

Republicans, however, said the Pentagon is ignoring congressional intent.

“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,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"Without question, that was our clear intent," House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said of the military pay law.

As Boehner noted, House Republicans are readying a bill from the Appropriations Committee to specifically fund the death benefits.

A senior defense official said the fact that the House was drafting new legislation “shows Congress fully understands that DOD does not have the legal authority to provide these death benefits.”

“This situation demonstrates the pure absurdity of the government shutdown and why Congress must act to get the government back open,” the official said.