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A key lawmaker is pushing the Defense Department to further reduce the impact of the partial government shutdown by acting to make certain service academies do not lose their accreditation, and taking a more liberal interpretation of what compensation can be provided to service members and their families.
Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel, is accusing the Defense Department and Obama administration of adopting policies during the government shutdown “to inflict as much pain as possible on our nation’s most vulnerable people.”
Wilson sent two letters to the Defense Department on Friday demanding answers, one about furloughs of civilian faculty at the service academies and one about restrictions on military pay.
It is the pay issue that Wilson says is a sign of just trying to inflict pain.
Just before the shutdown took effect Oct. 1, Congress passed and the president signed a law providing funding for active-duty pay and allowances to avoid any delays. Without the Pay Our Military Act, service members would have accrued compensation but would not have received it until the government shutdown was resolved.
Wilson said the Defense Department is not fully paying troops, and uses death benefits as an example. Defense officials have told the House Armed Services Committee that benefits for active-duty deaths that happened on or after Oct. 1 will not be paid to families until full funding is restored for the Defense Department. Families should receive a $100,000 lump-sum death gratuity and a $10,500 allowance for burial expenses.
“The Department of Defense’s refusal to pay the death gratuity or burial benefit is inexcusable,” Wilson said in a statement “The grieving families of our service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice defending our country deserve these benefits.”
“It was Congress’ intent when we passed the Pay Our Military Act that these benefits be provided without question to our military families,” Wilson said.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., joined Wilson in that criticism, saying in a statement it is “outrageous that the president has temporarily halted death benefits.”
Wilson has asked the Defense Department to provide a comprehensive answer by no later than Oct. 10 of all military compensation, detailing which parts are being paid and which are not. He wants an explanation for anything not being paid.
To make sure nothing is left out, Wilson provided a complete list of the more than 100 different types of pay, allowances, bonuses and special pays.
In his second letter, Wilson asks why the Defense Department did not exempt civilian faculty at the service academy from the shutdown by using latitude provided by Congress to keep paying civilians who were working in support of military personnel.
In his statement, Wilson said the U.S. Naval Academy “is in jeopardy of losing its long term academic accreditation and the education of our midshipmen is being harmed” because of the decision to furlough civilians. “I urge the Administration to allow the civilian faculty to return to work immediately.”
In his letter, Wilson notes 20 percent of service academy classes were canceled because of the civilian furloughs. He questions why the Defense Department would allow teachers to remain working at military-dependent schools but not at the service academies. And, he warns the Naval Academy could lose its accreditation “in the next few weeks” because it does not have adequate faculty without the civilians.
Wilson is not working in isolation. There are other lawmakers challenging the Defense Department for furloughing any civilian workers during the government shutdown. The House Armed Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing next week for military officials to explain why about half of the military’s civilian workforce was sent home Tuesday when the Defense Department funding lapsed, along with funding for other federal agencies.