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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pentagon to Double War Death Payments

WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from Congress, the Pentagon yesterday announced plans to increase death payments by nearly $250,000 to families of U.S. troops killed in combat zones.

The proposed rise, which defense officials are asking be made retroactive to October 2001 for relatives of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, would effectively double, to $500,000, the cash that survivors can receive in immediate government payments and life insurance proceeds.

"This increase is a recognition that in certain areas of benefit compensation, the support packages for survivors have not been kept up to date," said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman.

The initiative follows a mounting effort on Capitol Hill to correct what some lawmakers have decried as paltry compensation at present for survivors of U.S. troops killed in combat. The political concern has reflected growing public distress over the deaths, injuries and long hours of duty being endured by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Both Republicans and Democrats have introduced legislation to raise military death payments, part of a broader effort in Congress to improve conditions for those who serve in the armed forces, their families and veterans.

"What the Pentagon has put forward is a good core approach," said Senator Jeff Sessions, a leading advocate of greater death payments. "It will serve as a good vehicle now for moving forward."

Under the Pentagon's plan, a one-time, tax-free "death gratuity" paid to survivors of military men and women killed in the line of duty would rise from $12,420 to $100,000. The government would also increase the limit of life insurance coverage for service members by $150,00 to $400,000. The government would pay the premiums on this extra coverage for troops in combat zones.

As of Monday, 1,415 Americans had died in the Iraq conflict and 156 had died in Afghanistan and other places designated part of the global war on terrorism, according to the Pentagon. The cost of covering higher gratuity payments and extra life insurance settlements to relatives of these troops would be about $280 million in retroactive payments, according to the Defense Department.

"There is no price that you can put on human life, and no amount of money that can compensate for the loss of a loved one," said Whitman, who discussed the Pentagon proposal after it was reported by The Associated Press. "But we can make a family's financial circumstances more bearable."

The plan is expected to be detailed further today by senior Pentagon authorities in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It will be sent to Congress formally next week as part of the president's 2006 budget request, officials said.