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Jennifer Griffin: PR Nightmare Over Military Death Benefits

BRET BAIER: We begin with National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin at the Pentagon and a public relations nightmare over military death benefits. Good evening, Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRIFFIN: Good evening, Bret. After two days of political sniping and public outcry, the Congress, White House and Pentagon scrambled to come up with a solution to make things right.

They paid the ultimate sacrifice for the nation and then their families were paid the ultimate insult. Denied the $100,000 in death benefits and paid travel to Dover Air Force Base to meet their next of kin due to the partial government shutdown. Sergeant Joseph Peters, 1st Lieutenant Jennifer Moreno, Sergeant Patrick Hawkins and Private First Class Cody Patterson returned home today from Afghanistan. Friends of Sergeant Peters, who left behind a wife and 20-month-old son, expressed concern.

TIM COOK: Seeing people lose their lives. People losing their sons and daughters, their husbands, their wives.

They have family waiting that need help.

GRIFFIN: On the eve the shutdown, the president signed the Pay Our Military Families Act. Congressional Republicans thought that law gave the Pentagon the authority it needed to pay death benefits.

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: Frankly, I think it's disgraceful that they're withholding these benefits.

REP. BUCK MCKEON: I guess somebody in the Justice Department or the Pentagon had some problems interpreting what we said.

GRIFFIN: The White House woke up to the problem today, ordering the Pentagon and its lawyers to fix it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was very disturbed to learn of this problem.

The president expects this to be fixed today.

GRIFFIN: Begging the question, why wasn't it fixed sooner? The pentagon warned Congress, the public and presumably the White House three days before the shutdown.

ROBERT HALE, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We would also be required to do some other bad things to our people. Just some examples: We couldn't immediately pay death gratuities to those who die on active duty during the lapse.

GRIFFIN: Today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accepted a solution offered by the private charity Fisher House, which agreed to step in and pay the families until the shutdown ends.

KENNETH FISHER: We're going to bridge the gap until sanity rules down in Washington and the president and Congress get in a room and straighten this out.

GRIFFIN: At Dover, all four families made it in time to meet the coffins, greeted by Secretary Hagel, his first visit to Dover since taking the job in February. On the Senate floor, the chaplain provided a prayer.

BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death payments to the families of children dying on far away battlefields, it's time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough.

GRIFFIN: In the end, the Pentagon, which has the largest budget in the federal government, decided the solution was to let the private sector pay. Bret.

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