Four years ago, the Legislature decided to grant a monetary benefit to members of the Louisiana National Guard permanently disabled in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Applications have been made for the $100,000 benefit. No money has been paid.
The problem, state officials said, lies with the way the law is written. Strict guidelines mean few qualify for the benefits, even if they lost limbs while fighting in Iraq.
Louisiana National Guard soldiers have to be certified as 100 percent permanently and totally disabled within a year to receive the $100,000.
Time counts against them if federal officials initially think their conditions will improve. Only one disabled veteran is scheduled to receive the benefit.
The lack of money flowing sparked a lawsuit this fall in the 19th Judicial District.
Gretna resident Chad Battles and Lafayette resident Deron Santiny — both of whom served in the Louisiana National Guard — are suing the state Department of Veterans Affairs for rejecting their applications.
Battles said he hurt himself while performing as a machine gunner in Baghdad six years ago. He said he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs certified Battles as 100 percent permanently and totally disabled, one of the qualifications for receiving the $100,000 benefit.
In July, the state sent Battles a letter denying his application on the basis that his “initial final ratings” certification was not 100 percent and indicated a likelihood of improvement.
Battles said he is fighting to support his wife and children. He said the $100,000 would help him put his financial life in order after a period of homelessness.
“Honestly, I don’t know why they’re denying me,” he said.
In addition to the disabled benefit, the Legislature also directed the state to pay $250,000 to the families of slain soldiers.
Michael DiResto, spokesman for the Division of Administration, said $9.65 million is available to pay both sets of benefits.
The bulk of the money, at least $8 million, is for the death benefits.
The state only recently bulked up funding after receiving complaints from the families of slain soldiers that they were not being paid.
The families fought to fix a flaw in the 2007 law that omitted soldiers killed or injured between Sept. 11, 2001, and July 6, 2007.
Gov. Bobby Jindal traveled to Camp Beauregard near Pineville this summer to sign into law legislation that corrected the oversight.
State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, said he was aware of the problems with the disability benefit while handling a bill to fix the problem with the death benefit. He said he did not bring those problems up because he did not want to put the bill at risk.
Robin Keller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said qualifying to receive the disability payment is a complicated process.
Of 12 applications forwarded to the agency by the Louisiana National Guard, 11 were disqualified, she said.
Keller declined to comment on Battles’ application.
However, she said, a veteran’s initial rating is what determines qualification for the disability benefit. She said a veteran has a year to appeal and try to move that rating to 100 percent permanently and totally disabled.
A rating of 100 percent permanently and totally disabled more than a year down the road does not count, she said.
“The language of the law as it’s written today, we’re bound by that,” Keller said.
She said disabled veterans can apply for assistance through the privately funded Military Family Assistance Fund, which is designed to help with financial hardships.