Senate increases military death pay

By Acton Gorton

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning to discuss increasing the death gratuity for troops killed in combat in a bill known as the “Standing With Our Troops Act of 2005.”

The testimony at the hearing will set the basis of the legislation that would directly affect the families of those killed in action, including the relatives of Marine Cpl. Nathan Moore and the 1544th Transportation Company from Paris, Ill., which had the most combat casualties in Iraq.

Moore, from Champaign, died along with 30 other Marines and Navy personnel when their transport helicopter crashed Jan. 26 in western Iraq.

“The general consensus (is the death gratuity) needs to change,” said Lt. Col. Joe Richard, spokesman with the Pentagon. “The details now are the particulars (of the legislation).”

President Bush will propose a dramatic increase to $250,000 in government payments to families of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and in future combat zones.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The plan to increase the tax-free “death gratuity,” now $12,420, to $100,000 and provide an extra $150,000 in life insurance payouts will be part of the 2006 budget proposal submitted to Congress next week, the Pentagon’s personnel chief said.

Proposed benefits of the package would include a tax-free death gratuity increase, increasing health care coverage for children, increasing the monthly income payment, and increasing the education assistance available for the spouse and children. There also appears to be a consensus that the benefits will be retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001, the day when Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan. The families of the more than 1,500 troops who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since then would be eligible.

Although no politicians have voiced any dissent against the proposal, there are disagreements on who is eligible and what is included in the package.

Republicans suggested that those who die while training for combat missions also should be eligible for the increased death benefits. Democrats argued that the benefits should extend to all military personnel who die while on active duty.

Richard said it was time to bring the gratuity from $12,000 to $100,000 and increase the insurance from $250,000 to $400,000.

Jim Cooper, the liaison for the 1544th Transportation Company’s Family Readiness Group, said he could not speak for the rest of the families, but he can relate because his son, Matthew, is currently deployed with the unit in Iraq. Cooper talked about the therapy bills that would be needed for the family of a fallen soldier.

He said he didn’t see how the death gratuity could make a difference in the long run, but he praised Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-Ill.) efforts for recently proposing gratuity increases in the Senate.

“$100,000 isn’t going to go very far,” said Cooper. “You are never going to be able to put a price on a life.”

Under Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) proposal, the gratuity increase would only extend to those service members killed while in a combat theatre, according to Kathy Moakler, deputy director of government relations with National Military Family Association, an advocacy group for military service members. Because there are different proposals for the legislation, Moakler drew a distinction between the legislation her group is in support of and legislation proposed by Lieberman.

“We believe the survivor benefits should be paid equally to all survivors of active duty death – survivors of those killed in a combat zone and those killed on active duty,” said Moakler.

Robert Gibbs, communications director for Sen. Barak Obama (D-Ill.), said Obama strongly supports raising the death benefit.

“In the case of Nathan Moore and the gratuity increase, Sen. Obama thinks that is appropriate for the enormous sacrifice he made to his country,” said Gibbs.