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."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.