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Senators introduce bipartisan bill to ensure servicemember death benefits are paid during government shutdowns

WASHINGTON – Yesterday, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced The Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act. 

When servicemembers perished during government shutdowns in 2013 and 2018, their families were initially denied military death benefits. This legislation would provide a permanent appropriation of funds to immediately pay military death benefits to survivors of servicemembers killed during any future government shutdown.

The longstanding purpose of the military death gratuity payment is to assist families of deceased servicemembers in meeting their financial needs during the period immediately following a servicemember's death and before other survivor benefits become available.

The benefits covered by this legislation include:

·         Death gratuities for survivors of deceased military service members

·         Funeral and burial expenses

·         Authorized funeral travel, including to dignified transfer ceremonies

·         A temporary continuation of a basic allowance for housing (BAH) for dependents

Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) introduced the same bill in the House of Representatives.

“We have a duty as Americans to support those who serve and their families,” said Senator Coons“In the words of President Lincoln, we must meet our sacred commitment to those ‘who have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.’  I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bill into law and ensure that these benefits are never subject to Congressional inaction.”

“When our servicemembers make the ultimate sacrifice protecting our freedoms, we must make certain no grieving family is subjected to delayed benefits due to Congressional stalemate,” said Senator Moran. “No Congressional disagreements should prevent our heroes’ families from quickly receiving the benefits they are owed. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this bill and see it signed into law.”

“In 2013 when the government shutdown, more than a dozen brave servicemembers were killed in action and I was outraged when their military death benefits were denied,” Senator Manchin said. “That’s why I’m joining my colleagues in introducing this bill to make sure that when the government shuts down, military death gratuities would never lapse and would always be immediately paid. These days, government shutdowns are all too common here in Washington and the families of these servicemembers should never pay the price.”

“Our men and women in uniform fight tirelessly to defend our nation and preserve our values,” said Senator Ernst. “It is essential that we ensure the families of our servicemembers who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country are provided with benefits and assistance they need without delay – regardless of the debate happening inside the halls of Congress. While nothing can ever relieve the families of the pain, we can ensure they receive the promised assistance, and that their loved one is buried with honor.”

“Providing for our service members and their families should be above partisan fights in Congress,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “There should never be any question of our commitment to honor our troops, particularly those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. That is why I am proud to ensure that their families receive the necessary support and financial assistance they need during such a tragic time as the loss of a loved one. A government shutdown should not stand in the way of military family members getting the support they deserve.”

“Our brave servicemen and women sacrifice so much to defend our country and keep Americans safe and free—selflessly putting their lives on the line every day,” Senator Capito said. “There are many consequences of a government shutdown, but it’s unacceptable that we would put ourselves in a position to deny military benefits to the families of fallen service members. This bipartisan legislation will ensure that whether the government is open or not, these families receive the benefits they’ve been promised for their loved one’s sacrifice.”