Four years ago during the government shutdown, families of soldiers who die in combat were temporarily unable to receive death benefits that cover burial, funeral, travel, and temporary housing assistance for families. Keith Humphrey, a veteran and father-in-law of a deceased serviceman who received the benefits, has been working since 2013 to get Congress to pass legislation that would exempt the benefit payments from the shutdown and ensure all military families receive benefits in the instance of death, even if the government is shut down.
“The death gratuity payment is a $100,000 tax-free payment that gets paid to the next of kin, typically within 48 hours of the service member’s losing his life,” said Humphrey. “It’s for anything you need it for. It’s for paying bills. It’s for food. It’s for actually burying or doing the funeral arrangements for your son, daughter or husband or wife.”
During the last shutdown in 2013, the private sector stepped up to help.
“Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense at the time, he went to the Fisher House, which is a military families charity and he got the Fisher House to pay the death gratuity payment until the government reopened,” said Humphrey. “I thought that was kind of a horrible thing to have happen, where you’re waiting on a charity to step up for the government.”
The Kansas Legislature has made sure this won’t happen in Kansas by passing a bill in 2014.
“If you’re a Kansas servicemember and you lose your life during a government shutdown, Kansas will pay the death gratuity until the government reopens,” said Humphrey. “We covered Kansas. We couldn’t cover the rest of the country, but at least we got Kansas covered.”
Democrat from Virginia Gerry Connolly has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to fix the problem nationally.
“The bill is H.R. 1928, it’s called the Families of Fallen Servicemembers First Act,” said Humphrey. “I was able to get 108 co-sponsors since it was introduced in April. That was a lot of emails., I don’t know, a couple thousand a week and a lot of phone calls. I would call people that basically wrote me back and said they were interested in looking further into it. I’d give them a couple days to think about it and then I’d call them.”
Two members of the Kansas delegation, Roger Marshall and Lynn Jenkins, have signed on as cosponsors thus far. Keith Humphrey ran for the Kansas Senate as a Democrat and lost in 2012 and 2016.