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Don't Just Protect Families of Fallen During a Shutdown

 Marines from the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C  fold the American flag during the full honors funeral of U.S. Marine Corps Col. Wesley Fox in Section 55 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, April 17, 2018. (U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser)
Marines from the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C fold the American flag during the full honors funeral of U.S. Marine Corps Col. Wesley Fox in Section 55 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, April 17, 2018. (U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser)

A proposal on Capitol Hill would guarantee families of fallen troops get paid their full death benefits on time during a government shutdown.

If you're thinking "I can't believe we're still talking about this," you're not alone.

Here's how things work right now: During a government shutdown, like the one that happened early this year, the $100,000 death gratuity paid to families of the fallen is delayed. That means if a service member is killed during the shutdown, those families have to wait for the government to reopen before receiving the money, which is meant to be used to pay for immediate expenses such as private funeral costs or other needs.

The proposal, which has been floating around for years and is now included in an annual bill funding the Defense Department, would safeguard that benefit by paying it out of a different pot of money when needed.

One of the congressmen who sponsored that proposal published an op-ed in The Hill this week pushing for its passage.

Officials with Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said President Donald Trump has indicated a willingness to allow another eventual government shutdown as he continues to fight for funding for a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. And at least one government budget expert has noted that if lawmakers don't pick up the pace on passing funding legislation, a shutdown could be in the works.

But Connolly noted this should be a bipartisan issue.

"The military death gratuity payment is more than just a financial transaction with a family in need. It is part of our sacred compact we have with our men and women in uniform and their families," he said in the op-ed. "That seems obvious and simple, yet Congress has fallen short of this standard. And that should outrage every American. But from that outrage, we can forge a bipartisan consensus to ensure that we never again abandon the families of fallen service members."

What the congressman's op-ed does not mention are the other, major problems military families face every time there is a shutdown or even the threat of one. No doubt taking care of our fallen families should be our first priority. But what of the rest of the fighting force?

Shutdowns are bad for military families and bad for the warfighter. Child care centers are closed. Base services are reduced. Paycheck delays are threatened. Guard drill dates are canceled mid-training.

Military.com's readers have told me that the least lawmakers and politicians can do is make sure the folks they count on to defend the nation aren't sitting under the "what if" stress caused every time there's a whiff of a shutdown.

Yes, pass legislation that protects the families of the fallen. But even better, don't even talk about a shut down. Ever. Get it together and don't shut down the government at all.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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