Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel attended a dignified transfer service at Dover AFB Wednesday as Congress wrestled with the problem as to why it had failed to provide for survivor benefits to next of kin of personnel killed while on duty.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel traveled to Dover Air Force Base Wednesday to pay his respects at the dignified transfer for U.S. Army Pfc. Cody J. Patterson of Philomath, Ore.
Hagel was joined on the flight line at Dover AFB by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and other high ranking military personnel as a transfer team reverently carried Patterson's remains, enclosed in a silver transfer case and covered with a United States flag, to a waiting van.
Hagel’s visit to Dover, which was not made public in advance, came against the backdrop of a U.S. Congress struggling to provide survivor benefits for the families of deceased soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. The next of kin of military personnel are entitled to a $100,000 death gratuity payment, but that has been held up by the partial government shutdown. A Pentagon spokesman said the death benefits, normally paid within three days of a death, have been delayed because there is no authority to release the money.
In a statement issued after Hagel’s trip to Dover, he acknowledged an agreement between the DoD and the Fisher House Foundation to provide the death gratuity benefit during the government shutdown.
While he was grateful for the help from Fisher House, Hagel also said he was, “offended, outraged and embarrassed” that the shutdown had prevented the government from keeping its promise to take care of the next of kin of America’s war dead.
“The Department has no higher priority than taking care of our service members and their families,” Hagel said. The DoD and Congress both have a responsibility to fulfill that pledge, a role, he said, the legislative branch has abdicated.
The Fisher House Foundation has been responsible for the construction of a number of homes that can be used by families of deceased and wounded service members. The foundation has operated a home at Dover AFB since 2010.
The Fisher House Foundation will be reimbursed for its expenses once the shutdown ends, Hagel said.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday took unanimous action to restore the payments; as of press time, the Senate had not taken up the measure.
Patterson, 24, was an Army Ranger on his second deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed Oct. 6 by improvised explosive device, according to an Army press release. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment out of Fort Benning, Ga., and had been in the Army since January 2012.
Also killed in the same attack that took Patterson's life were Sgt. Patrick C. Hawkins, 25, of Carlisle, Pa., 1st Lt. Jennifer M. Moreno, 25, of San Diego, Calif., and Special Agent Joseph M. Peters, 24, of Springfield, Mo.