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Congress’ research service says Pentagon can pay death benefits during shutdown

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The non-partisan Congressional Research Service said Thursday that a special military play bill signed by President Obama on Sept. 30 can be used to pay the death gratuity to families of fallen heroes.

The Pentagon has argued otherwise. It has refused to pay the $100,000 to the survivors of six service members killed in action, saying the Pay Our Military Act does not authorize it.

Facing heat from irate American public, the Pentagon on Tuesday took the extraordinary step of accepting money from a charity to pay the benefits.

But the Congressional Research Service, in an opinion by Edward Liu, the legislative attorney, said the wording of the Pay Our Military Act aims to "provide pay and allowances to members of the Armed Forces."

Mr. Liu said a court would likely rule that it is akin to a military appropriations bill to pay allowances such as the gratuity, even though the Pay Our Military Act does not specifically mention the death benefit.

The opinion calls the similarities of an appropriations bill and the Pay Our Military Act "clear on its face."

"This justification makes clear that DoD was not prohibited from making death gratuity payments to the family of the fallen," said Joe Kasper, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, who asked for the research service opinion.

The death gratuity is one of scores of benefits officially listed by the Pentagon as an allowance for troops and thus is covered by the Pay Our Military Act, House Republicans say.

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