A bipartisan group of senators are asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to find a way to pay death benefits to families of five members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan.
Because of the government shutdown, appropriated funds aren't available to the Pentagon for the $100,000 death benefit for troops killed while serving on active duty.
"We write to express our concern with recent statements made by Department of Defense officials claiming the Department does not have the legal authority during the government shutdown to provide immediate death gratuity payments to surviving family members who lose a loved one in combat," the senators wrote in the letter.
It was signed by both Missouri senators, Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill, along with Democrats Chris Coons and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, as well as Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Republicans Jerry Moran of Kansas and John Boozman of Arkansas also signed on.
"We strongly urge you to use whatever legal discretion you have to ensure that the nation can fulfill that sacred obligation, and to promptly notify us of changes required under law while the Congress continues to work towards reopening the government. Most immediately, we request that you seek an interim solution to allow the families of the five service members killed in Afghanistan this weekend to welcome their loved ones home," the senators wrote. "One such solution could be financial assistance from the Fisher House, which has offered an advance grant to families of the fallen."
It was not immediately clear whether the assistance from Fisher House would be accepted.
The Antideficiency Act does prohibit "accepting voluntary services for the United States, or employing personal services not authorized by law, except in cases of emergency involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."
Asked about the funding situation for the death benefits for the five recently deceased service members, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said that the solution was to fully open the government. Levin said he wouldn't debate the legal interpretations.
"It's absurd they can't pay out death benefits," the Michigan Democrat told reporters. "They should be able to pay them out, and if the Republicans are serious about it, they'll put a continuing resolution up for a vote in the House which allows us to get the government functioning again. Otherwise, you're going to be arguing over every single legality of whether the government can do this or that under the existing law."