Her son Christopher served 18 months in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry before returning home in the fall of 2005. After a few weeks of no active duty, Christopher's military insurance lapsed. He was paying full price for his infant daughter's doctor visits and absurd amounts of cash for his wife's medicine. But before he could even get a handle on the situation, Hurricane Rita plowed through his Lake Charles home. Insult to injury would be an understatement. At only age 24, he was faced with a lifetime of misery in just a few short months. "His house suffered severe damage, and his medical bills were piling up," recalls Berryman. "We didn't know where to turn, and my son was just being tossed around, sent from one agency to the next."
Both Rita and Katrina were key factors in the delayed implementation of the Louisiana Military Family Assistance Fund, which was created to award need-based grants to families of Louisiana National Guard and Reserve forces called to active duty since the Sept. 11, terrorist attacks in 2001. Berryman got wind of the program through media reports that year and started an endless battle of her own that has produced a litany of e-mail messages, personal correspondence and direct phone calls to all levels of government, even Congress ' all to no avail.
The state-sponsored program, MFAF, which is funded partly by taxpayers on a voluntary basis, was swamped underneath a bureaucratic mess. The Legislature placed oversight firmly in the lap of the Department of Social Services, but officials there were slow to claim the program. The jockeying went on for practically all of 2006. Eventually, the Attorney General's Office had to step in as a third-party administrator to get the ball rolling. On Jan. 1 of this year, a report on the program was due to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, but that deadline was missed. Gov. Kathleen Blanco also got around to appointing an oversight board in January of this year, but it didn't meet until March.
Coincidentally, around the same time, Berryman says her son developed a "mysterious illness that affected his liver and caused severe pain and weight loss," which isn't unlike what other soldiers returning from Iraq have complained about to the military. Emergency room visits soon followed, and even though there is still no diagnosis, there is a $6,800 medical bill. "If there were ever a time that we needed money, this is it," Berryman says. "Christopher could have used the grant for his daughter's and wife's medicines and for his own bills."
Last week, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget finally took the last step to open up MFAF's account, which was holding roughly $260,000. Berryman and others hope that means applications will soon be taken and grants awarded in the coming months. Veterans Affairs Secretary and Brigadier General Hunt Downer, who also serves on the MFAF oversight board, was contacted for comment, but he did not return the call. He did, however, tell the budget committee last week that the group can "now administer grants as necessary," although no firm timeline was provided. In all, the presentation to the panel took less than two minutes.
If the letter of the law is followed, applications can be for something as simple as new tires or rent. After all, the initiative was engineered to reach as many people as possible and concentrates on the smaller complications of life in the Guard. More substantial allotments are also available for casualty cases, and a lump sum payment of $2,500 will be offered to the families of soldiers killed in action, missing in action or those who have been taken prisoner.
The fund provides bridge money, or emergency cash, to families that have lost a source of income due to military service. And while getting money out of the program is challenging, it's simple enough to donate. Taxpayers have the option to contribute to the cause through a check-off box on state forms for individual income, corporate income and corporate franchise taxes. Private donations are also accepted.
While the amount of money not being used is shocking to Berryman, the actual figure is not. There are good people who understand what the program is for, she says, but they probably don't know the people it has been held from for the past two years. "People from Louisiana are so generous, and I'm not surprised by the donations," she says. "But I'm past the point of frustrated that the money is not getting to the people who need it in a timely fashion. If anyone deserves help from this type of program, it's my son, but we have had absolutely no luck getting any response. Hopefully, that's about to change."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.