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SOLDIER "DEATH BENEFITS" M.I.A.

Last month, the Bush administration announced that, in the Pentagon's 2006 budget, there would a big bump in the so-called "death benefit" for military families. If a soldier was killed in war, administration officials promised, his loved ones would get a $100,000 lump sum -- up from just $12,420 -- plus an extra $150,000 in life insurance payouts. It seemed like a great idea. Everybody cheered.rummy_whoosh.jpgBut then, something curious happened. Or rather, didn't happen. The Pentagon never included the money for a bigger death benefit in its budget. So now, the Army has gone to Congress, asking for an extra $348 million to keep the administration's word.The money is part is a larger, $4.8 billion package of Army "FY06 Shortfalls and Requested Legislative Authorities" -- programs that the service's chiefs felt should have received more money from the Pentagon budgeteers. Every year, the Army, Navy, and Air Force appeal directly to Congress to infuse these programs with more cash. This year's Army list also includes $443 million for more M16s and other small arms and $227 million for night vision equipment, Inside Defense notes.Now, maybe the death benefit lack this year was just a simple oversight on the Pentagon's part. Maybe the Defense Department's PR machine spun a little faster than its financial wheels could turn. But given the cynical games the Pentagon has been playing with soldiers' paychecks -- holding them hostage, essentially, as a back-door way to inflate military spending -- I'm inclined to believe the worst.THERE'S MORE: Inside Defense has a full list of all of the services' "unfunded requirements."

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