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."
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.