The federal government is unable to pay death benefits for fallen service members because of the government shutdown but the Fisher House Foundation in Rockville, Md., is stepping up to provide those payments while Congress and the White House seek an end to the now nine-day old impasse.
The U.S. Defense Department announced on Tuesday that, because of the government shutdown, it would be unable to pay death benefits to families of service members killed in combat. The lack of the cash payment – which is usually around $100,000 – caused an outrage among members of Congress and one of those members, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) reached out to Ken Fisher, chairman and CEO of the Fisher House Foundation to try and find a solution.
“After losing a loved one in service to our nation, these families should not have to endure more pain as the result of political squabbling,” said Fisher. “For the last 20 years, Fisher House has been there to support our military families in their time of greatest need. We are now stepping up to honor the sacrifices that have been made, and to repay a debt that is truly unpayable.”
Shortly after his conversation with Machin, Fisher agreed to make advance grants to military families. These grants would pay for things such as travel expenses and funeral costs. The Pentagon confirmed with the Office of Management and Budget that the U.S. Department of Defense can enter into a contract with the nonprofit and reimburse it later for the payments.
“After speaking to Ken Fisher today, I am so grateful that the Fisher House Foundation volunteered to help military families to make sure there is no funding gap during a time of unimaginable grief,” said Manchin. “I applaud Ken and the Fisher House for their generosity and dedication to serving our brave soldiers and their families during their times of need, especially while this senseless shutdown continues.”
According to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the fact that military families would not receive death benefits because of the shutdown should not have come as a surprise. In announcing the news, Hagel said that the Pentagon warned members of Congress about this issue before the shutdown. He also stressed that the department “pursued every tool and option at our disposal” to try to provide the 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,” said Hagel.
The Foundation also announced Friday that it would sending a check in the amount of $25,000 to each of the 29 families of a service member killed in service to our nation between the dates of October 1, the start of the federal government shutdown, and October 10, when President Obama signed the measure to reinstate payment of death benefits by the Pentagon. The $25,000 gifts are being made in addition to the military death benefits that had been temporarily withheld due to the shutdown, which the Pentagon is scheduled to resume soon.
Founded in 1990, the Fisher House Foundation best known for the network of comfort homes built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. It has also provided veterans and their families around $200 million in out of pocket costs for lodging and transportation since its inception. According to its most recent Form 990, filed in 2011, the organization bought in $35.4 million in revenue and racked up $52.8 million in expenses. No details were given on how those costs were broke down.