Global Politics

Charity steps in to help military families unable to receive death benefits because of the shutdown

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Credit: US Dept. of Defense

1st Lieutenant Jennifer Moreno, 25, of San Diego, was killed in action in the Zhari district of Afghanistan, near Kandahar, on Sunday. Moreno was a qualified paratrooper, and was serving as a cultural liaison officer with Special Forces. Her family is one of those unable to receive death benefits because of the shutdown, and is now being helped by the Fisher House Foundation.

Families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan over the weekend were dealt a second blow when they were told the government was going to be unable to immediately pay death benefits, due to the government shutdown.

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Four such families were at Dover Air Force Base Wednesday to receive the remains of loved ones - soldiers killed in a Taliban attack in Afghanistan, Sunday. These families are entitled to receive $100,000 immediately from the Pentagon. The money is meant to cover immediate expenses, like the loss of a soldier's pay, flights, and funeral costs. They weren't going to get it.

But it now seems a fix is in the works.  

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday that the government has agreed to sign a contract with a private charitable organization, the Fisher House Foundation, to cover the death benefits until the government shutdown is over.

The Foundation first made the offer without any expectation of reimbursement from the government. But under the deal announced by Secretary Hagel, the foundation will be reimbursed. 

"It's a truly tough time," says Cindy Campbell, Fisher House Foundation vice-president for community relations.

"It's really difficult for people to truly understand what these families go through."

Best known for its network of comfort homes at military and VA hospitals, the Foundation routinely provides families with accommodation when service members are hospitalized for combat injuries, illnesses or disease.

"If there's a silver lining to any of this," said Campbell, "I think it's that the American public has remembered that we're still at war, and we need to help these families."

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