- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A nonprofit group dedicated to helping troops and Marines decided to jump in to assist families of killed military members deprived of their $100,000 death benefits after reading a Washington Times report.

Jennifer Magerer, executive director of Family Communications and Logistics for Luke’s Wings, said in an interview with The Washington Times that staffers on Tuesday voted to take thousands of their nonprofit’s dollars and put it toward paying for the families to fly to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the bodies and caskets will be unloaded.

“We read the story,” Ms. Magerer said, in reference to an earlier Times report that detailed the plight of families of recently killed service members, “and we talked about if we could step in a do something. Our … president said go for it.” She also said in an emailed statement that her group was “deeply saddened” by the government’s failure to pay the benefit.

Within minutes, she said staffers had reached out with telephone calls to the Undersecretary of the Army, to the wife of the Commandant of the Marine Corps and to contacts at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to see if they could join together Luke’s Wings with the families of the killed service members and facilitate the offer.

The offer for assistance came in response to reports that the government shutdown was leaving at least five families of recently killed U.S. service members in the lurch on separate $100,000 death benefits. The payment fills in for the service member’s regular pay, until the more permanent survivor benefits begin. It’s normally used to pay for funeral costs, transportation costs and living expenses for the surviving family, and is disbursed within 36 hours of the military member’s death.

Meanwhile, the death benefit fiasco has reached the ears of Congress.

California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Times, that read in part: “The President made it clear that there should be no disruption in pay and allowances for the men and women serving in uniform and their families. Contrary to this assertion … the Department of Defense, through careless legal interpretation, is now mistakenly denying payments of Death Gratuity and other benefits to the families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice. Since DoD has determined that it cannot provide this benefit, I am at a loss about why DoD did not take a more active role in notifying Congress and insisting that changes in law occur immediately.”

Republicans in Congress announced they’re drafting legislation to immediately restore the payment to families and hope it could be put to a vote as early as Wednesday.

The group Luke’s Wings helps pay for families and loved ones to reunite with wounded warriors at military medical facilities around the nation. The group also helps pay to reunite loved ones with military members who are in hospice care.

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