Today at Camp Beauregard, Governor Bobby Jindal signed HB 143 by Rep. Nick Lorusso, which provides 32 death benefits for the families of Louisiana National Guardsmen who lost their lives and disability benefits for two Guardsmen who have been injured since September 11, 2001, into law. Gov. Jindal was joined by the families of some of the soldiers who were killed on duty, yet had not been eligible for death benefits under existing law because the deaths occurred before 2007. The new legislation, which was part of the Governor's 2011 Legislative package, amends death benefit coverage to include those killed beginning in 2001.
Governor Jindal said, "Just yesterday, we gathered with our families to celebrate the Fourth of July and our independence. It's fitting that on the heels of Independence Day we're here to sign a new bill into law that ensures our military families have the benefits they deserve after paying the ultimate price for our freedom. This law extends death benefit coverage back to those soldiers who died beginning in 2001, making 32 soldiers eligible for benefits, along with two who suffered disabilities. We included $8.2 million in our budget to cover these benefits. We must always remember those who sacrifice everything in the defense of our nation."
Rep. Lorusso said, "I was proud to work with Gov. Jindal in getting these veterans and their families the benefits they deserve. Louisiana is truly supportive of our veterans who protected our communities from enemies abroad, and this law will provide much-needed support to Louisiana families who were permanently impacted by the death or disability of a loved one. We cannot say enough to thank those veterans who sacrificed in service to our country, and this law will serve an important role in helping our veterans and honoring their service."
Major General Landreneau said, "The passage of this legislation is a very important benefit for the Soldiers, Airmen and families of the Louisiana National Guard. It provides peace of mind to the Guardsmen and families of Guardsmen who sacrificed so much since 9/11, while serving our state during times of need when they were called upon by the Governor and while serving our nation during this time of conflict."
"By signing HB143 into law, the Governor once again demonstrated his unwavering support for Louisiana's military and veterans," says Lane Carson, secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. "I am proud to live in a state that values the sacrifices made by our military personnel and supports their families in times of loss."
In 2007, a law was passed by the Legislature to give benefits for survivors of guardsmen killed in action and for permanently disabled soldiers. The benefit is $250,000 for a fatality and $100,000 for a permanent disability. However, because of the unique state-oriented mission of the National Guard, this 2007 law addressed the gap of benefits to Guardsmen and their survivors while serving on state active duty missions instead of a federal mission. State active duty missions include Guardsman serving in New Orleans under Task Force Gator or other civil support missions, like delivering water to a local community. The 2007 law was not retroactive and therefore omitted guardsmen who were killed in action or those permanently disabled during the War on Terror, which began September 11, 2001.
This new law the Governor signed today will bridge the gap in benefit qualification by extending eligibility back to September 11, 2001. Between the period of September 11, 2001, and July 6, 2007, 32 members of the Louisiana National Guard lost their lives during periods of activation by the Governor or President of the United States. During this time, two guardsmen were also disabled.
Family members of four soldiers who will now qualify for death benefits under the new law -- Sergeant Warren A. Murphy, Sergeant Craig Nelson, Staff Sergeant Sweeney, and Sergeant Isiah J. Sinclair - also attended the event and spoke with the Governor about the importance of the legislation.
To further provide for the Louisiana beneficiaries of Guardsmen killed on active duty, Governor Jindal also signed HB 232 by Rep. Lorusso into law last week, which exempts beneficiaries from paying tuition at a state higher education institution for five years or until they receive a bachelor's degree, whichever comes first.
In total, more than 11,000 Guardsmen have been mobilized since 2001 for missions including Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Noble Eagle here in Louisiana.