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."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.