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Military death benefits suspended amid shutdown

The families of more than a dozen service members who died during the ongoing government shutdown have not yet received a $100,000 in promised pay.
A member of the honor guard
A member of the honor guard stands at attention as U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in his motorcade for Memorial Day observances at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, May 27, 2013.

The families of more than a dozen service members who died during the ongoing government shutdown have not yet received a $100,000 in promised pay. The families, including those of five American service members killed in Afghanistan last weekend, did not receive the “death gratuity” given to families of the fallen even after Congress passed a law last week to pay military members during the shutdown.

The payment, which is wired to families of active duty and some reserve troops no later than three days after the service member’s death, covers the costs of immediate expenses, like funeral services and flights to meet the coffins, as well as immediate financial assistance until life insurance policies take effect.

Republican aides told NBC that they were drafting a resolution to restore the gratuity that could be introduced as early as Wednesday.

“We are going to work through this week [on] a mini CR that would help with this funding,” said Congressman Sean Duffy, R-Wisc., said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Tuesday.

Congressman Joe Wilson, chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Service Committee, asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a letter why death benefits were not paid as part of the Pay Our Military Act and requested an itemized explanation of the suspended payments. And lawmakers took to the floor Tuesday to denounce an effect of the shutdown that has also angered the public. Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., called the benefits delay “a great injustice.”

“Despite the government shutdown, our service members are still expected to go to war knowing full well that they may pay the ultimate sacrifice for this great nation. And we should be expected to keep our promises to their family members,” Ellmers said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., sharply criticized congress on the House floor Tuesday.

“Shouldn’t we as a body, Republican or Democrat, shouldn’t we be embarrassed? Ashamed? What do American people think when they see that death benefit for those who served and sacrifice- they’re not eligible?” McCain said. “I’m ashamed! I’m embarrassed. All of us should be.”

Seventeen service members have died since the shutdown–none of which received the benefit, a senior defense official said. Other benefits for surviving family members, such as a housing allowance, were also on hold, NBC News reported.

NBC’s Frank Thorp, Andrea Mitchell, and Courtney Kube contributed to this report.