Thursday, October 10, 2013

Death Gratuity- Victim of the Government Shutdown

The government shutdown has been going on for more than a week now. So called non-essential services were shut down and those who provide those service were also branded as non-essential and were sent home. In all of government, I suppose there are non-essential services, but I would hope that we wouldn't spend our federal budget on non-essential services.  

NBC News reported "In what veterans call an outrageous slight after the ultimate sacrifice, the shuttered federal government is witholding a $100,000 payment normally wired to relatives of fallen soldiers- including the families of five killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. 

The payment, know as the death gratuity, is typically sent to sent to families of the fallen within three days to help them cover funeral costs or travel costs to meet the flag-covered coffins of their loved ones."

Back in 2004 when my son, 1Lt Ken Ballard was killed, the death gratuity was $12,000.  This was a pitiful amount to compensate families of the fallen.  I'm not sure why, but sometime in 2005 the Department of Defense increased the amount to $100,000 and it was retroactive for those who had already died. That was the right thing to do.

If life was fair, of course our loved ones would have come home to their families and the bright future we always imagined and expected.  But that didn't happen.  
If life was fair in this circumstance, the family's Senator and member of Congress would personally go to the family to tell them why they will not receive the death gratuity that is promised to the troops and their families. Yes, they need to tell a grief stricken mother, father, husband or wife whose life has been turned upside down, why this payment is now considered "non-essential" until the government shutdown is resolved.  The family needs to be able to ask someone why their loved ones death is not considered essential or important. Now the burden of this conversation will fall to the casualty team, as if their scope of responsibility was not heavy enough.
I cannot imagine the cold heart of the person who made this decision and those who had the nerve to implement this action.  Although even one death is one too many, the number of troop deaths is minimal at this point and I hope the total of death gratuity during this time period would not exceed $1 million. 

 The decision to delay this payment is a harsh reminder to families of the fallen of their loss and the bureaucratic journey they have embarked upon. For those families who have suffered missteps during the casualty process, it is a reminder of the disrespect we experienced during those first awful days.

It is time to stop playing games with families of the fallen. It is time to stop using the military as a pawn in the government shutdown game.  Delaying the death gratuity is disrespectful and cruel to military families who already carry a heavy burden of war. I urge the Secretary of Defense to rescind this delay immediately.  The death gratuity paid to families of the fallen should be considered an essential and immediate payment during the government shutdown.  No discussion, no negotiation and no extortion.