WASHINGTON -- Families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would receive a $12,000 death payment -- double the current benefit and tax free -- under a bill the House passed Wednesday.
The payment would go to soldiers killed after Sept. 10, 2001. The House expects the expansion to cost $122 million more over the next 10 years, including $35 million next year. The goal is to help families defray the immediate costs of funerals.
"It's unconscionable to me that a knock on the door by a military chaplain is followed by a knock on the door from the tax man," said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. "Sadly, this is the case."
The House voted unanimously, 413-0, to pass the bill as the latest attacks on American soldiers in Iraq brought the combat death toll during the occupation higher than the number killed before President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. The current benefit is $6,000.
"This is long overdue," said Rep. Michael McNulty, D-N.Y.
The House and Senate passed several bills granting a variety of tax benefits to military personnel and reservists this year. The bills all differed slightly, and lawmakers have been unable to reconcile their differences.
House lawmakers passed the death gratuity bill again, hoping it will becoming law more quickly.
Military and reserve associations have started to increase their pressure on lawmakers to pass the legislation as the end of the year draws near.
"Pardon my skepticism," said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, "but we've watched one house take the initiative on an issue, only to have it stop at that house and not go to the other one."
"We're amazed that it's taken so long," she said.