If you're looking to make a charitable donation in the near future, please consider the Fisher House Foundation. Not only does that wonderful organization provide temporary lodging for military families visiting their wounded warriors--at no cost--they also stepped up when the Pentagon failed the familes of armed forces personnel recently killed in Afghanistan.
As you might have heard, the military stopped paying the $100,000 death benefit to the survivors of military members who died in the line of duty. That meant the families of four soldiers and one Marine who were killed recently not only had lost the death gratuity; they also had to pay their way to Dover AFB, Delaware to meet the remains of their loved ones. From Dan Riehl at Breitbart.com:
""Unfortunately, as a result of the shutdown, we do not have the legal authority to make death gratuity payments at this time," said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. "However, we are keeping a close eye on those survivors who have lost loved ones serving in the Department of Defense."
That must be reassuring for spouses, parents, siblings and other relatives who must deal with the loss of a loved one and a military that can't pay promised benefits. So, the Fisher House stepped in and agreed to pay the gratuity (and travel expenses for family members) until the government can get its act together. Supposedly, the feds will reimburse the charity at some point down the road.
Realizing it had a p.r. disaster on its hands, the Obama Administration tried to blame Congressional Republicans and dispatched both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Secretary John McHugh to Dover, as the remains of four soliders returned to American soil. It was Mr. Hagel's first visit to Dover after more than seven months in his post.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner claimed there was no reason for the interruption in payments. Mr. Boehner said a bill passed by Congress last week--and signed by President Obama--gave the Pentagon wide latitude to pay all kinds of bills, including the death benefit.
And he may have a point. Republican staffers on the Hill began hearing rumblings about the suspension of death benefits--after the funding bill was approved. But if you believe the administration's version of events, lawyers and accountants at the Pentagon analyzed the measure and decided it didn't cover death benefits.
As a retired officer, I can assure you there are plenty of insensitive and stupid people in the DoD bureaucracy. Still, it's absolutely stunning that senior officials could interpret an omnibus military funding bill and decide it didn't cover the death gratuity and related benefits. Then again, these "leaders" are part of the same cabal that determined the government shutdown required the closing of open-air monuments. Such "decisions" suggest a deliberate effort to inflict pain--and score political points.
That's not to say the GOP is not without blame. If there was any doubt about the continuation of death benefits, Republicans should have passed a separate measure to cover those accounts. The Pentagon Comptroller warned that death benefits might be suspended back on 27 September, giving lawmakers--and the White House--plenty of time to ensure that funding continued. Ed Henry of Fox News also discovered that Obama aides knew about the situation "a few days ago," but did nothing.
Asked about the scandal at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney couldn't say when the president became aware of the situation, only that he expected Congress to "fix" the problem. What leadership.
Here's a dirty little secret. Even during shutdowns, DoD has large sums of money squirreled away in accounts and programs that are little more cutouts. Some of the funds are used to pay for covert operations and other sensitive programs. It takes a little fiscal maeuvering to move that money to other accounts, but it can be done.
A friend of mine, a retired Air Force budget officer, once related the story of how the U.S. paid a European ally for "special" basing rights for U-2 flights over Libya during the 1980s. The money was transferred through an account that belonged to another federal agency, under the aegis of an insect eradication program. Are today's Pentagon comptrollers any less creative than their counterparts from 30 years ago?
And if that's not bad enough, here's the final insult. While the Fisher House is temporarily paying death benefits for fall service members, Secretary Hagel's executive dining room at the Pentagon remains open for business, according to military analyst Ralph Peters. After all, the SecDef can't go without his gourmet fare, especially after those short-notice trips to Dover.