October 08. 2013 10:23PM

Shutdown: Congress should be 'ashamed' on suspension of death benefits

Staff and Wire Reports

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that members of Congress should be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" for the suspension of death benefits for American soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McCain said these $100,000 payments have been denied to at least five families because of the government shutdown, now in week two.

McCain, a former Navy flier and prisoner of war in Vietnam, said angrily that it is time for lawmakers to resolve their differences, reopen the government and figure out how to raise the U.S. debt limit, which is expected to be reached in the next 10 days or so.

"We know how it's going to end," said McCain. "Sooner or later the government will resume its functions. Sooner or later we will raise the debt limit. So why don't we do this sooner rather than later."

McCain said the government shutdown has caused Americans all sorts of suffering.

The Arizona Republican said the five families of U.S. soldiers killed last weekend in Afghanistan were hit with "a double whammy" by the federal government: they suffered the loss of loved ones and were unable to receive the death benefits.

The $100,000 payment usually comes within a couple of days of a service member's death, helping the family grapple with the immediate financial needs before other federal government benefits become available.

The Pentagon says it is not allowed to pay these families a "death gratuity," as long as the shutdown continues.

"I'm ashamed. I'm embarrassed," McCain said. "All of us should be."

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday she sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel requesting that the families be granted the death gratuity.

"Military members who die while serving our country are certainly entitled to all the benefits, including the death gratuity and other death benefits that they were promised when they enlisted," the New Hampshire Democrat wrote. "Payment of these benefits is crucial to maintaining the morale, well-being, and the current and future readiness of our Armed Forces and our military families."

She urged the Department of Defense to use the broadest possible interpretation of the Pay Our Military Act, which was signed into law Sept. 30.

McCain said it is time to end the shutdown.

"There's a number of issues that we could sit down and negotiate within an hour if we will stop attacking each other and impugning each other's integrity and honor," McCain said.

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte took to the Senate floor Tuesday to praise a new plan proposed by Maine senator and fellow Republican Susan Collins that would reopen the government and repeal the nearly $30 billion Medical Device Tax.

"It's time to end the shutdown, and this common sense proposal includes provisions to fund the government for six months in line with the Budget Control Act that was signed into law two years ago, and it would repeal the costly Medical Device Tax that is harming New Hampshire's medical device manufacturers," Ayotte said in a statement. "The plan also allows federal agencies needed flexibility to deal with the across-the-board cuts imposed by sequestration. Congress should immediately take up this plan, which contains provisions previously supported by members on both sides of the aisle and which I believe can garner bipartisan support."