Senators fight to get benefits for fallen soldiers' families - News, Weather & Sports

Senators fight to get benefits for fallen soldiers' families

Posted: Updated:

Four soldiers were killed this week in Afghanistan and their grieving family members were reportedly told that the government shutdown meant they would not be flown to Dover to meet the bodies or get immediate help toward funeral costs.

Area United States senators and others are working to correct what one government official said was an obvious mistake on the part of Department of Defense officials. The outrage has united both Democrats and Republicans who are locked in a bitter budget battle that has the government shut down.

Two of the soldiers killed had ties to Kansas and Missouri with the family of one of the solider's living in Lansing.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, was one of the lawmakers aggressively working the issue Tuesday. A spokeswoman said that Roberts "demanded and received assurances that the Army is flying the widow to Dover" in reference to the soldier's wife who lives in Lansing, KS.

The defense department announced Tuesday that four soldiers died on Sunday in the Zhari District of Afghanistan. The four were injured when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device.

Those killed were:

  • Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, PA. He was assigned to the Third Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, GA. Hawkins' wife, Brittanie M. Hawkins, lives in Lansing. He was the son of Roy and Shelia Hawkins who still live in Pennsylvania.
  • Sgt. Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, MO. He was assigned to the Fifth Military Police Battalion, Vicenza, Italy. He is survived by his wife and 20-month-old son. 
  • 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego. She was assigned to the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington.
  • Pfc. Cody J. Patterson, 24, of Philomath, OR. Patterson was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning. This was his second deployment to Afghanistan.

Hawkins was remembered as a brave and incredibly talented Ranger who had served multiple tours of duty in combat zones.

"He was moving to the aid of a wounded Ranger when he was killed. His actions that night were in keeping with the epitome of the Ranger creed: 'I will never leave a fallen comrade.' Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hawkins family during this difficult time," said Lt. Col. Patrick J. Ellis, Hawkins commander, in a statement.

Hawkins previously was awarded multiple medals for his service and dedication. He was honored as a man of character and commitment. He was known as a team leader who led from the front and had the respect of his fellow Rangers.

He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and the Purple Heart.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, said Hawkins was helping prevent a high-profile suicide bombing in Kandahar City.

"Sgt. Hawkins bravely answered the call to serve our country, and we will forever be indebted to him for his service and sacrifice on our behalf," Moran said in a statement. "My deepest sympathies go out to his family, and I ask all Kansans to join me in keeping his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."

Senators took to the floor to voice their outrage that the Pentagon announced it would not provide its customary benefits after the death of a member of the military due to the shutdown.

Those benefits include providing transportation to Dover for family members, providing funeral and burial costs, covering unpaid income due as well as a $100,000 death gratuity, which is not subject to taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, urged action.

"The families who lost five loved ones, it's an unbearable loss but now they're being denied death benefits," Reid said. "It's shameful and embarrassing."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, echoed Reid's comments, asking senators what the American people think.

"Shouldn't we as a body, Republican, Democrat, no matter who we are, shouldn't we be embarrassed about this, shouldn't we be ashamed?" McCain said.

The senators writing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday night about their concerns were Moran; Roy Blunt, Republican from Missouri; Claire McCaskill, Democrat from Missouri; Chris Coons, Democrat from Connecticut; Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia; John Boozman, Republican from Arkansas; and Tom Carper, a Democrat from Connecticut.

"It goes without saying the death gratuity is a small price to pay in order to support family members of those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country," the senators wrote. "We strongly urge you to use whatever legal discretion you have to ensure that the nation can fulfill that sacred obligation, and to promptly notify us of changes required under law while the Congress continues to work towards reopening the government."

The senators demanded an interim solution to help the families of the four soldiers as well as that of a 19-year-old Marine who was killed on Saturday.

"One such solution could be financial assistance from the Fisher House, which has offered an advance grant to families of the fallen. We pledge to work with you and do anything in our power to ensure this problem is resolved," the senators wrote. "Any delay in providing families with this essential benefit is absolutely unacceptable."

U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents Lansing where Hawkins' widow lives, said she is working to ensure the families of fallen soldiers get their death benefits.

"I am working with House Armed Services Committee and the Appropriates Committee on another piece of legislation that will make it absolutely clear that the administration must allow these benefits to continue and I anticipate a House vote in the next day," she said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. "The United States owes our complete gratitude to those who serve this country, and nothing could be more essential than our responsibility to take care of the families of those who make the ultimate sacrifice."

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.