Two veterans now have received payments stemming from a benefit the Legislature created four years ago for Louisiana National Guardsmen seriously wounded in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Deron Santiny and Ecklin Kane each received $100,000 this week, Robin Keller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said Thursday. The payments are the first to be made since the disability benefit was created, she said. State officials blame the slowness in payments on strict guidelines that allow few to qualify for the benefit.
Santiny and another veteran, Chad Battles, sued the state earlier this year seeking the $100,000 payment. Keller said Santiny was in the process of receiving his check before the agency became aware of his lawsuit.
Of 13 applications forwarded to the state Department of Veterans by the Louisiana National Guard, only two have been paid. Keller said the other applicants were not paid because of problems with their qualifications. She said the problems included not serving after the terrorist attacks and the degree of their disability.
Santiny said Thursday that he filed suit because he could not get answers on why his claim remained pending. He said he suffered injuries when a roadside bomb exploded south of Baghdad on April 5, 2005.
Santiny said he has a brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies. He said he had 10 surgeries just on his right shoulder.
He said he is unable to drive because of migraines, forcing his wife into the role of chauffeur. He said he cannot work because of his health problems.
Kane could not be reached for comment Thursday. The state Department of Veterans refused to release details on his injuries.
In 2007, the state Legislature created monetary benefits for members of the Louisiana National Guard killed or permanently disabled in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The benefit pays $250,000 for deaths and $100,000 for permanent disabilities.
The original bill omitted soldiers killed or injured between Sept. 11, 2001, and July 6, 2007. The Legislature this year made the benefit retroactive to the terrorist attacks.
Still to be determined is whether the language will be changed to ensure that more disabled veterans qualify.
To receive the $100,000, Louisiana National Guard soldiers have to be certified as 100 percent permanently and totally disabled. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determines the extent of disability and assigns an initial rating.
If that initial rating is not 100 percent, veterans must appeal and get it to 100 percent within a year to qualify for Louisiana’s benefit. Time works against them if the federal government thinks they will improve and they do not.
Battles, for example, was denied on the basis that his “initial final ratings” certification was not 100 percent and indicated a likelihood of improvement. He said he now is 100 percent disabled but cannot get payment from the state.