From the “Day Late and a $100,000 Short” Department

Quoted from Department of Defense Email:

Statement by George Little on Death Gratuity Payments

Today, senior DoD leaders consulted with the leadership of the Fisher House Foundation on moving forward with providing death benefits to the families of fallen service members.

Now that Congress has enacted legislation permitting DoD to provide families these benefits directly during the government shutdown, DoD is moving expeditiously to pay each family the $100,000 death gratuity they are owed. These payments were initiated today and the families will receive them early next week, when their banks reopen for business. In addition, Fisher House Foundation will donate $25,000 to each of these families from its own funds.

Secretary Hagel greatly appreciates the generosity of the Fisher House Foundation, as well as other groups which have stepped forward to help these families in their time of need. With Congress no longer preventing DoD from making these payments to the families directly, he is pleased that DoD will be able to fulfill its responsibilities to the families of the fallen. The Secretary remains deeply concerned about the disruptive impact the ongoing shutdown is having on Departmental operations, and continues to urge Congress to restore funding to the entire federal government.

 

One Day in the Oval Office

Let’s make a couple of assumptions here.

For the sake of our hypothetical situation below, let’s assume that the White House was notified at 9 AM about the lack of payments of death gratuities and other benefits to the survivors of the four Soldiers killed in action whose remains were returning to Dover. Let us also assume the existence of telephones, a chain of command, a White House Secretary and common sense.

I’m also assuming that the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, owns the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Department of Defense agency which I believe actually pays these benefits when any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine is killed in the line of duty. (I bet a months pay that he does and they do, but I’m unemployed so a month’s pay ain’t much.)

Let’s also assume that we’re in the Oval Office at that very moment just after 9am that the Commander in Chief is being notified that these families are not being paid.

Let’s listen in for a few moments. Here’s what should’ve happened:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

(Now and hereafter, please imagine the voice of the president in your head as you read his words.)

Obama: “I’ll get right on that Jay.” (To his secretary) “Get me Secretary of Defense and the Chief White House General Counsel on the phone immediately!”

A few minutes pass by, and the President’s secretary buzzes in. “Mr. President, I have Defense Secretary Hagel and the General Counsel on the phone for you.”

Obama: “Thank you”  (To the Defense Secretary and the General Counsel now on a conference call) “Good morning gentlemen. I understand there’s a problem with paying death gratuity to the families of four Soldiers returning to Dover who have just given their lives in the service of this great Nation of ours. Have it fixed by noon.” <click, dial tone>

Here’s how it probably went:

Jay Carney (White House Press Secretary): “Mr. President, we’re getting reports that the remains of the four Soldiers who died in Afghanistan are coming back to Dover and their families aren’t getting their death benefits because of the shutdown. The press is killing us, sir and we’ve got to do something about this.”

Obama: “Gee, that’s a shame. Wish there was something I could do about that.”

Oh, and confidential to Jay Carney, I know there are lengthy, convoluted processes involved with getting things done in Washington. Six years in the Pentagon led me to that conclusion on my own.  But when you’re the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, and you make a call to get something done it shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours to cut a couple of checks.

This is an unparalleled failure of leadership.

Those of who have had the honor of serving in the United States Army know precisely what it means when they say, “There’s Strong and then there’s Army Strong.”

Watching this unfold, I now know that there’s despicable and then there’s White House despicable.