Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday announced he will introduce a bill Monday to increase the death gratuity paid to families of troops who die in the line of duty, and he promised to bring it to the floor of the Senate early this year as part of a larger package of defense and homeland security measures.
The bill would raise the gratuity from $12,420 to $100,000, increase the maximum benefit for the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance from $250,000 to $300,000 and offer expanded TriCare Medical Insurance coverage to the children of deceased service members.
“The men and women who wear our military’s uniform are heroes on the battlefront, their families are heroes on the home front, and we should honor them, as we do and as we will continue to do in this piece of legislation,” Mr. Frist said.
Death gratuity payments and medical insurance would be retroactive to the beginning of the war on terror in fall 2001, though the life insurance increase would not be.
Several Republicans have been working on different proposals to help the families of service members who die in combat or otherwise in the line of duty, and the bill combines their efforts.
Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, pushed for the changes in medical insurance coverage; Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, sought the increased death gratuity; and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, wanted increases in both the death gratuity and the life insurance benefit.
Mr. Sessions had wanted the life insurance benefit to increase to $400,000, but Mr. Frist settled on $300,000 because he said that was the highest level possible without having to increase the $20-a-month fee service members pay for it.
The Bush administration has opposed increases in the past, arguing it should be left to the military to decide what the benefit should be. But Mr. Sessions said yesterday the Defense Department is “on board with this basic concept.”
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he supports the measure, and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, promised to hold a hearing in February on the issue.
“This piece of legislation can, under your leadership, be ready for consideration by the full Senate at the first passage of the first piece of legislation to which it could be appended, if that’s your desire,” Mr. Warner told Mr. Frist during a press conference yesterday.
The changes, particularly the death gratuity increase, have the support of military and veterans groups.
The gratuity, which usually reaches families a few days after the death, would apply to any service member who loses his life on active duty, but a spokeswoman for Mr. Frist could not say whether the insurance provisions would be limited to troops who die in combat.
Mr. Frist said he has not yet received a cost figure for the bill.
Democratic support for the measure is expected, particularly because some Democrats already are co-sponsoring bills with Mr. Sessions and Mr. DeWine.
Two House members — Rep. Spencer Bachus, Alabama Republican, and Rep. Dennis Moore, Kansas Democrat — are sponsoring a bill to increase the death gratuity to $100,000.