New Orleans, LA – Former law enforcement officers across Louisiana who were critically injured in the line of duty received a blow on Wednesday, when they learned their disability pensions were being slashed in half, and that they would be forced to repay hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds already received.
"Unfortunately, we have to follow the law, and in following the law, sometimes it doesn't include deserving people,” said Donald Villere, Board of Trustees member for the Municipal Police Employee’s Retirement System (MPERS), according to WVUE.
The law pertaining to disability pensions was rewritten in 2003, which made full pension eligibility available to officers who lost the use of a limb after July 1, 2003.
In cases prior to that date, officers may or may not qualify for 100 percent pension, even if they were initially granted it.
“We're not talking about if someone is entitled to disability or not. It’s the 100 percent benefit and whether the accident occurred on or after July 1st, 2003,” MPERS executive director and general council Benjamin Huxen said at the meeting.
"Are you kidding me? You guys represent me,” former New Orleans Police Officer Chris Ahner told the board, as he pleaded to retain the pension he deserved. “You are forgetting that we are people. Not only are we people, but we are public servants who are sworn to protect you.”
“You guys took the 11 or so of the most severely injured in the state of Louisiana and you took out the sickles and you whacked the heads off on over half of them,” Officer Ahner told the board.
Officer Ahner was just 33 years old when he was hit by a drunk driver in the line of duty.
"I got hit by a car going 70 miles per hour, I broke my neck, my hips have been fractured, both of my legs nearly ripped completely off,” he told the board.
He was hospitalized for months, and had to force himself to learn to walk again.
The MPERS initially assured him he would receive a full disability pension for life – an assurance they rescinded in March.
Instead, the board voted to give Officer Ahner just 40 percent of his pension, and ordered him to pay back nearly $250,000 in funds he has received over the years.
At least one board member, Larry Reech, openly disagreed with the decision to slash the officers’ pensions.
"We had attorneys look at the law. He was disabled under the 100 percent. We gave it to him,” Reech explained. “Eighteen years later, we're going back and he's had what? A hundred surgeries?”
“These are the kinds of cases [where] you leave them alone,” Reech argued. “You leave those guys alone, for Christ's sake.”