A private foundation has stepped in to aid the Defense Department to advance a "death gratuity" to families of American soldiers who die during the partial federal government shutdown, the Pentagon chief said on Wednesday.
"I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner," said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a statement.
He said the Department of Defense has reached an agreement with the Fisher House Foundation that will allow the federal government to provide the family members of fallen service members with the full set of benefits they have been promised, including a death gratuity payment of 100,000 dollars.
"The Fisher House Foundation will provide the families of the fallen with the benefits they so richly deserve," Hagel said, adding that the department will reimburse it once the shutdown ends.
Defense officials said they had warned Congress before the government shutdown that the ability to pay death benefits would run out when the appropriations lapsed.
"The president was very disturbed to learn of this problem, and he directed the Department of Defense to work with the Office of Management and Budget and his lawyers to develop a possible solution and he expects this to be fixed today," said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a daily briefing earlier on Wednesday.
A total of 26 service members have died since the federal government lurched into a partial shutdown on Oct. 1, including five killed in combat in Afghanistan, according to the American Forces Press Services.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Republicans-led U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously to restore the financial payments that the Department of Defense makes to the families of fallen service members.