PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Mike Murphy served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in the late 1960’s, and he tears up over the way the government shutdown has denied death benefits to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s emotional. I’m sorry,” he told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

At Allegheny County’s Veterans Services, Murphy assists vets with benefit claims.

He cannot understand why Congress, including U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle, Tim Murphy, Mike Kelly, and Keith Rothfus, cannot get their acts together.

“It’s ridiculous and it’s insulting to that family, to that veteran who died.”

Murphy is referring to 25-year old Sgt. Patrick Hawkins, a Carlisle, Pennsylvania, native, who was just killed in Afghanistan and is one of the 17 whose families are not getting the $100,000 death benefit because of the government shutdown.

“Our Congress, first of all, needs to get their heads out of their butts and do the job they were elected to do,” noted Murphy.

The failure of Congress to reach an overall agreement on this budget is hurting more than just the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s also hurting thousands of veterans who depend on the government for services.

“If the shutdown does not end in the coming weeks, the VA will not be able to assure delivery of 1 November checks to more than 5.18 million beneficiaries,” Gen. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Without addressing the overall issue, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to exempt death benefits from the shutdown.

It came as the White House said it would act administratively with the Pentagon announcing the Fisher House Foundation would pay death benefits until the shutdown ended.

And Murphy had this message for Congress.

“Don’t hold the veteran hostage,” said Murphy. “Don’t hold the widow of a veteran hostage. Don’t hold the family of the veteran, the deceased veteran — don’t hold them hostage. You know, we’re not pawns. We’re people,” he says.

More on the government shutdown
More from Jon Delano

Watch & Listen LIVE