The Defense Department has entered into an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation allowing the federal government to provide the family members of fallen service members with the full set of benefits they have been promised, including a $100,000 death gratuity payment, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday.
"The Fisher House Foundation will provide the families of the fallen with the benefits they so richly deserve," Hagel said. "After the shutdown ends, DoD will reimburse the Fisher House."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Army Secretary John McHugh, right, watch an Army carry team move a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Cody J. Patterson Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Patterson, 24, of Philomath, Ore., died Oct. 6, 2013 in Zhari district, Afghanistan of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. (AP)
In a news release, Hagel said he was "offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner."
"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. In the days after the shutdown, " Hagel said.
Defense Department lawyers and budget officials had pursued "every tool and option at our disposal in an effort to provide these benefits," Hagel said.
Under the Pay Our Military Act, attorneys at the Pentagon found they did not have the authority to make payments to the families directly.
In the last 24 hours, however, the Defense Department "was approached by the Fisher House Foundation, which had generously offered to make payments to these families from its own funds."
The Office of Management and Budget, along with officials at the Defense Department determined that an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation was necessary to provide these benefits.
Along with the Defense Department, Hagel said it was also up to Congress to share in the "responsibilities as well, and it has abdicated them."
The Fisher House has been providing housing and travel assistance to military families since 199o, so this offer “is nothing new to us,” Cindy Campbell, vice president of public affairs for the nonprofit organization, told TheBlaze earlier Wednesday.
“What is new is the Fisher House stepping in to bridge the gap between when they get reimbursements from the government,” Campbell said.
Hagel said he will continue to "work every day to address the very real impact that the government shutdown is having on our people, and I once again call on Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities and restore funding for the federal government."