Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011

On August 2, 2011, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced S.1493 also known as the Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011 “To provide compensation to relatives of Foreign Service members killed in the line of duty and the relatives of United States citizens who were killed as a result of the bombing of the United States Embassy in Kenya on August 7, 1998, and for other purposes.” Section 2 of the bill increases the death gratuity to $100,000. Section 3 of the bill increases the group life insurance benefits to those killed in line of duty to “$400,000 if such amount is greater than the amount for which such employee is otherwise insured.” The bill has been read twice and referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. You may read the text of the bill here.

On September 9, 2011, Congressman Allen West (R-FL) introduced the Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act of 2011, along with Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and more than 20 other original cosponsors. The bipartisan legislation authorizes the Department of State to provide compensation for the families of fallen Foreign Service employees that is comparable to what is provided to the families of fallen military personnel.

Here is part of what Congressman West said during his introduction of the bill:

Under current law, the surviving family members of an American Foreign Service employee are entitled to one year’s salary and the proceeds of their federal life insurance benefit. In contrast, the family of a fallen member of the military is entitled to an enhanced life insurance and death gratuity that was authorized by the United States Congress in 2005. This is a disparity that can no longer be overlooked.

The Foreign Service Line of Duty Death Gratuity Act would ensure that the families of Foreign Service employees receive, at a minimum, a death gratuity equal of $100,000, matching the benefit provided to military personnel. An enhanced life insurance benefit of at least $400,000 for Foreign Service employees serving at a recognized danger pay post also matches the benefit available to military personnel participating in combat operations or stationed in combat zones. Foreign Service employees with a higher yearly salary or life insurance payout will maintain their benefits as they exist under current law.

This legislation also recognizes our moral obligation to the families of the twelve Americans killed in the August 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Many of the surviving family members of that incident have endured significant and continuing financial and personal hardships that serve as a poignant example of the burdens faced by such survivors. These families have been unable to seek damages through the courts as other families in similar situations have because such actions are limited to state-sponsored acts of terror.

Similar legislation has passed the House of Representatives in previous Congressional sessions, but failed to clear the hurdle of the United States Senate. Then-Congressman ROY BLUNT (R-MO) continually led this effort over the years, and I am honored to carry the torch during the 112th Congress.

Congressman West full remarks is here: [Page: E1574]  GPO’s PDF and [Page: E1575]  GPO’s PDF.  H.R. 2881 has been referred to House Oversight and Government Reform. Read the full text here.

Thirteen years after the East Africa embassy bombings, compensation for the victims is still an aspiration. Of course, similar bills have been introduced in the past and did not go anywhere. This is way, way overdue for the families of those victims. As for the rest of the Foreign Service, the danger posts and unaccompanied posts seem to get longer every day. Our folks have been working in the war zones for many years now, and recently have been inserted into places like Libya where there is an ongoing civil war, or in Syria where the government is killing its people without qualms. It looks like this is the new normal, particularly in the new Middle East.

Given the budget constraints these days, it is easy to imagine that these bills like the previous ones will die a natural death in Congress . But I think we owe it to those who died in the Africa bombings to keep trying until our country meets its moral obligation to the families of the victims. Please write to your congressional representatives to show you care.