White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that President Obama expects immediate action after learning military families aren’t receiving death benefits during the government shutdown, which are given to the families of troops who fall in the line of duty.
“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 the president expects this to be fixed today,” Carney said.
Military death benefits weren’t included in the Pay Our Military Act, legislation passed by Congress that Obama signed into law on Sept. 30 to keep the armed forces in operation during the government shutdown. Following the briefing, the Pentagon announced a charity known as the Fisher House Foundation would step in to keep the payments flowing to families without need for congressional action.
Despite calls for federal action, the administration hasn’t similarly moved to ensure gay troops in same-sex marriages can apply for spousal benefits at National Guard installations throughout the country.
At least five states — Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina — have decided against enrolling the same-sex spouses of troops for spousal benefits into the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, despite an August directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying those benefits should be available nationwide.
In South Carolina, the National Guard has decided against processing spousal benefits altogether and is directing all military spouses to apply for benefits at federal installations.
Advocates, most notably the American Military Partner Association, have said these actions are in violation of federal law and called for federal response to units denying troops these benefits. Some advocates say federalizing control of these units by President Obama could be a possible, although extreme, resolution to the problem.
Last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) wrote to the Pentagon calling for a clear federal response.
But, thus far, there’s been nothing from the administration. On Sept. 19, Carney pledged to take a question from the Washington Blade on whether Obama thinks these units are violating federal policy, but no one at the White House has yet provided a response.
The Pentagon, which has said troops that were denied benefit applications can obtain them at federal installations, similarly won’t comment on the National Guard units.
Asked Monday if any kind of federal response was in the works, Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christiansen, a Pentagon spokesperson, replied, “Nothing new.”