The Denver Fisher House (credit: CBS)

The Denver Fisher House (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Fisher House Foundation has agreed to make payments from its own funds to help families of fallen soldiers who lost death benefits because of the government shutdown, and the foundation has ties to Denver.

Military families are just one of the groups taking a hit during the shutdown. The loss of death benefits maybe the most outrageous result of the shutdown, but not the only one.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wasn’t able to monitor a salmonella outbreak because the employees who do that had been deemed unessential. That changed on Wednesday.

Cancer patients couldn’t enter clinical trials for drugs they desperately needed until the National Institutes of Health brought back furloughed workers. It’s seemingly a case of crisis management with an end to the shutdown nowhere in sight.

The bodies of four Americans killed in Afghanistan arrived at Dover Air Force Base, and for their families the heartbreak was made worse by the shutdown. The Pentagon says it can’t pay death benefits.

“That’s absolutely incomprehensible to me that the government would withhold those kinds of things,” said Jim Swan, a veteran of Vietnam and Iraq.

Other veteran benefits are at risk as well. If the shutdown goes beyond Nov. 1, disability and pension benefits will stop for five million vets.

The outrage over the death benefit was so great the Fisher House Foundation announced Wednesday it would do what Congress wouldn’t — help the families get to Dover and bury their loved ones.

“The Fisher House Foundation is coming in and providing them with whatever they need on a grant basis so that the families don’t have to repay. The Fisher House will settle with the government when they get back up and running,” Melanie Starkman with the Denver Fisher House said.

The Denver Fisher House provides housing for veterans who travel to Colorado for medical treatments. Its national foundation is also now covering the death benefits.


House Republicans rushed late Wednesday to restore the death benefit, but Senate Democrats demanded full government funding, accusing Republicans of passing piecemeal bills based on what made headlines.

In the meantime those who served and some who made the ultimate sacrifice are among those hurt most.

“It’s just a despicable thing,” Swan said.

Yet another crisis is looming in Washington. If Congress doesn’t agree on a deal to increase the nation’s debt limit in one week the government will run out of money to pay its bills.


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