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Death Benefit Scandal Is the Government Shutdown’s Ultimate Insult

Death Benefit Scandal Is the Government Shutdown’s Ultimate Insult

Three days after the government shut down and two days before he was killed, 19-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Collins Jr. went on Facebook.

“Get it together Obama and not to mention Congress. Jesus! Make up your minds,” Collins wrote on October 3 from Afghanistan. “I will protect…my country with my life, but do not go fucking with the men and women that protect your sorry asses.”

Collins had enlisted in June 2012 immediately after graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School in Milwaukee. He did so with the knowledge that he would very likely be sent to a war that had begun when he was just 7, a war that was now all but forgotten and already lost.

Once in Afghanistan, he had nonetheless served with notable dedication, and he wrote in September of his sense of duty. He seems to have taken the government shutdown as a kind of betrayal. He suggested in the October 3 post that he might stage his own personal shutdown.

“I am out here in Afghan so I can’t just leave, but I can sit the fuck down and not give two shits,” he wrote.

Two days later, on October 5, Collins was killed in circumstances the Marine Corps described as “while supporting combat operations,” adding only that “this incident is under investigation.” Whatever the cause, whether hostile fire or mishap or anything else, the tragic result was the same.

The pain of Collins’s loss was then compounded by an insult to his memory. The shutdown that had so disgusted him prompted the Defense Department to say it could not authorize payment to his family of the usual $100,000 death benefit. The money is intended to assist with travel to meet the body at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and to cover funeral expenses.

His mother, Shannon Collins, who called the sight of two Marines in dress uniform appearing at her door “the ugliest vision I could ever see,” counted herself lucky that her employer offered her paid leave. She proved as decent as her son when she wondered aloud how others who were less fortunate would fare. She herself had worries no mother of a fallen American service member should suffer as she consulted with a funeral director.

“Am I going to be on a payment plan for the rest of my life so that my son can have the services that he deserves?” she asked herself.

Just before the shutdown, the House of Representatives had passed the Pay Our Military Act to ensure that active service members would continue to get paychecks. Nobody seemed to pay specific attention to the needs of the families should their loved ones be killed in action.

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