WASHINGTON — The
In a surprise move, Defense Secretary
The action came slightly more than a hour after the House passed a bill, 425-0, to restore the benefits and sent it to the
If the Senate fails to act, Republicans would have a harder time claiming credit for restoring the benefits.
The flurry of action — and finger-pointing by the
A senior administration official said that 26 service members have died since the shutdown began Oct. 1, six in Afghanistan and the rest in the United States.
President Obama was “not pleased” to learn that death benefits were not being paid and that grieving families were waiting for the benefits to cover the cost of burials,
The president and Democratic congressional leaders have been reluctant to pass Band-Aid bills to fix specific shortfalls, but neither wanted to be seen as denying grieving military families their benefits.
"I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner," Hagel said after traveling to Dover, Del., earlier in the day for the somber arrival ceremony for the remains of the four soldiers killed Sunday.
House Republicans blamed the Obama administration for the lapse, arguing it had the power to keep paying them. "This is a disgrace. An intentional policy of pain," said Rep.
"They broke a sacred trust with our U.S. men and women who are on the front lines," said Rep.
William A. Thien, the head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, called the benefits lapse delay "disgusting and shameful," adding, "It is absolutely appalling and nothing short of a travesty that elected officials continue to receive paychecks and benefits while not providing for those who deserve it most."
He said the VFW's foundation would provide financial assistance to families of deceased service members until the shutdown ends.
Hagel said that Congress was at fault. "In the days before the shutdown, we warned Congress and the American people that DOD would not have the legal authority to make these payments during a lapse in appropriations."
He said department lawyers determined that the Pentagon did not have the authority to make the payments, even after Congress passed legislation after the shutdown restoring pay for the military.
Fisher House had approached the Pentagon in the last 24 hours offering to pay the benefits, including the $100,000 death gratuity, from its own funds, and administration lawyers had determined that this was legal, Hagel said. "After the shutdown ends, DOD will reimburse the Fisher House for the costs it has incurred," he said.
When asked earlier Wednesday whether the Senate would act to continue payments, Senate Majority Leader
Times staff writers Brian Bennett and Christi Parsons contributed to this report.