Pension board slashes payments to injured officers across the state
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Former police officers critically wounded in the line of duty, have their lifetime pensions cut in half and are being forced to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You're looking at these things as numbers, you're looking at things as a value, you are forgetting that we are people. Not only are we people but we are public servants who are sworn to protect you," former NOPD Ofc. Chris Ahner said Wednesday.
Standing before the Board of Trustees for the Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System, Ahner explained how he nearly gave his life for the NOPD.
"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," Ahner stated.
In February of 2000, another drunk police officer slammed into Ahner. The 33-year-old spent months in the hospital and had to learn how to walk again. Years later, the pension board told Ahner, he'd receive a disability pension for life. But in March, the board rescinded that decision, voting instead to give Ahner 40 percent of his pension, and requiring him to pay back over $200,000 in money he's already received.
Ahner showed up at Wednesday's meeting, pleading his case.
"Are you kidding me? You guys represent me", Ahner pleaded.
Emotionally he continued, "My family, my family is impacted by this."
Ahner isn't the only former officer affected. Others received the same life-changing news from the board.
"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," Ahner said to board members.
Benjamin Huxen, executive director and general counsel for the Retirement System, countered, "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."
In 2003, the law pertaining to disability pensions was re-written. It states, if someone loses the loss of a limb after July 1st, 2003, they're eligible for a full pension. But before that date is another story. Ahner contends, although he didn't lose a limb, he can't perform the functions of a police officer. Confusion about the law and Ahner's fate was evident at Wednesday's meeting.
"Unfortunately, we have to follow the law and in following the law, sometimes it doesn't include deserving people," board member Donald Villere said.
Board member Larry Reech commented, "We had attorneys look at the law, he was disabled under the 100 percent, we gave it to him. 18-years-later we're going back and he's had what, 100 surgeries. When all of this started with Joey Norman and all them, these are the kinds of cases you leave them alone. You leave those guys alone, for Christ's sake."
One thing most board members agree on; the law should be changed yet again.
"It's a situation where we're gonna have to look at changing the law in order to help those folks get the benefit they deserve," Villere said.
For Chris Ahner, until the law is changed, he's stuck only receiving a fraction of the pension he's spent years paying into and sacrificed his body, to earn.
The board of trustees also told Chris Ahner at their Wednesday meeting, they'd work with him on the more than $200,000 he owes in overpayments. But Ahner says he feels defeated that for the foreseeable future, there's little hope he'll receive his full pension.
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