As the government shutdown becomes history, analysis of the power plays employed by those vying for a hold at the political helm of Congress can begin. One of the most dramatic and widely discussed consequences of the government failure to collusively govern is the suspension of death benefits for military families during the shutdown.
Calling on the Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Congress and the president to explain why they drew their priorities where they did should be the next step for the media and in general the American public. All that was required was the presentation and signing of a simple order allowing for monetary benefits to be paid to families of fallen soldiers, despite the closed government.
Though this task seems simple enough, the Fisher House Foundation charity had to step in and provide the monetary support to families of deceased soldiers for weeks. Congress, under media pressure, finally passed the basic bill continuing benefits through the shutdown but not until a light had been shone on their deliberate and insulting failure to support our troops.
The typical protocol is that a $100,000 initial death benefit is wired to families within 36 hours of their soldier’s death. This money is used for burial costs as well as travel expenses so the families can go to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be present for and witness the return of their loved one in a flag-draped coffin. This money also serves to offset everyday living expenses until survivor benefits begin to be dispersed.
The shutdown began on Oct. 1, and President Obama did not sign a bill to allocate death benefits to military families until 10 days later. In the almost two-week time lapse of governmental self-absorption and neglect, 17 military members had died. Seventeen military families were forced to struggle with burial costs and the failure of their country to honor the promises made to them.
The United States is still in a declared war, and no one in the government acted with responsibility to our fallen soldiers’ families. This is the biggest disgrace of the shutdown, and calls into question the façade of governmental responsibility touted to the masses by Washington. American political culture is in such a state to toss the Pledge of Allegiance out the window in exchange for political correctness, but has it also come to a complete denial of our troops’ activities and needs?
The emotional damage and stress wrought on military families denied death benefits during the shutdown will never be undone and must now serve as a lesson. Going forward we, the American public, alongside our governmental representatives, should strive to restore patriotism and a cohesive support of our troops and their families into the fabric of American society.
Whitney Greer is a sophomore English major from Medford, Ore.