JACKSONVILLE, ONSLOW COUNTY - The government shutdown has prevented families of fallen soldiers from receiving their death gratuity benefits. The Fisher House Foundation, Inc. has offered to cover the $100,000 payment due to more than 20 service members so far.
Camp Lejeune Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Collins, Jr. of Milwaukee is one of the service members whose family has not received any benefits. He died Saturday while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan.
The death gratuity benefit offers a non-taxable lump sum of $100,000 to the families of dead service members. This money helps cover costs such as air fare to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of their loved ones, and for the soldiers' funerals.
It's not limited to just active duty members killed in combat. If an active duty or inactive duty service member is killed while traveling to deployment or training, that service member is eligible. Also, if an active duty or inactive duty service member is killed during training that service member is also eligible.
Before the shutdown, families could typically expect to receive the money within three days of being notified. Wednesday, the US House unanimously passed the "Families of Fallen Soldiers Act." This act would reinstate the death gratuity benefits, despite the shutdown. However, the bill still needs to go through the Senate, and it could take time before families receive their money.
President for the Fisher House Foundation, Inc., David Coker, said they want to give aid to families as soon as possible regardless of changes in the legislation.
"Their lives are turned upside down, and the last thing they need to hear is that the check's in the mail and it will come in a week or two weeks," Coker said.
Coker said the foundation is working with the Department of Defense to mail these checks out to families within a day of establishing contact with them. He said regardless of changes in the bill, Fisher House will fund these families even if they can't count on being reimbursed.
"Our focus is on fixing the problem, solving the need, providing the funding, and we will worry about a thank-you note later," Coker said.
The foundation president said they already set aside close to $3,000,0000 to help fund every family in need so far. He said these funds were raised mostly through donations.