(CNSNews.com) - Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) says Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should resign for failing to ensure that the families of fallen American soldiers received the death benefits to which they are entitled.
"I think Chuck Hagel needs it to think about offering his resignation over this," Hunter told Fox News's Megyn Kelly Thursday night. "Because he's the one who's at the top of this food chain and broke the sacred trust with these families. These military families were not pawns to be played with by this administration to make political points. And that's exactly what happened in this situation."
The Pentagon normally pays $100,000 within three days of a soldier's death to cover funeral costs and travel expenses for survivors. The Defense Department suspended that payment after the partial government shutdown began, saying it was not authorized to pay troops' families.
But members of Congress said the Pay Our Military Act, which passed just before the "shutdown," gave the Pentagon broad authority to make necessary payments, including military death benefits.
On Wednesday, the White House insisted that the Defense Department had informed Congress -- before the "shutdown" -- that military death benefits would not be covered if funding ran out. But a White House spokesman could not or would not say when President Obama learned about the problem.
On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a bill hastily passed by the House and Senate to restore the military death benefits. That happened one day after White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama had directed his Office of Management and Budget and his lawyers "to find a solution."
Rep. Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, says he believes the Obama administration purposely allowed the military death benefits to lapse to stoke public fury at House Republicans.
"It was definitely intentional. At some point in the Department of Defense, somebody looked somebody else in the eye and said, do not give these families the death benefit."
Hunter says Defense Secretary Hagel should have made sure the benefits did not lapse:
"The Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should have said, get this done, we're not going to stand for it. Chuck Hagel needs to take a look in the mirror and say, did I do my job as the Secretary of Defense and as the guardian of that trust with these military families and the American people, did I do my job? And I would look him in the eye and say, sir, you did not do your job. You did not do what you were supposed to do as secretary of defense. And Mr. President, the President of the United States, again, could have fixed at a pen stroke about nine days ago whenever they first found out about it. He didn't do it either. He used our military families as pawns.
"And again, it's embarrassing and despicable of our civilian leaders of the military to do this. Now the military doesn't trust our civilian leadership."
Hunter says he was told on Thursday that the Pay Our Military Act, which passed just before the "shutdown," probably did authorize the death benefits: "There might have been some ambiguity and the lawyers could argue over it. But Chuck Hagel, the Secretary of Defense or the President of the United States need to have the moral fortitude to say, pay these guys. Do it. I don't care if it's ambiguous. Let's ask for forgiveness later and pay them."
Hunter said the military needs a leader "who looks out for the best interest of the military and their families. And right now, obviously, we don't have that."
Also appearing on Fox News Thursday night, Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, said Defense Secretary Hagel and President Obama could have prevented the lapse in military death benefits if they'd wanted to, but instead, they used the situation to "point a finger at Republicans."
"This administration has been the king of executive orders," Hegseth said. "Anything they wanted to do, they could have done it. And it's precisely because of what Congressman Hunter said -- veterans and military families from the beginning of the shutdown have been political pawns, from the World War II memorial blocking veterans, from the V.A. benefits and talking about how horrible it's going to be for veterans immediately...They have been using them. And it's an absolute outrage. And we should be calling them on it."