GOLDSBORO, N.C. (WBTV) – It took nearly a year for the State of North Carolina to pay Alex Sanders death benefits after her husband was killed in the line of duty.
Sanders’ husband, Trooper Nolan Sanders, died March 27, 2020 in a single-vehicle accident while on duty with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
The medical examiner issued a cause of death in Sanders’ case soon after the accident but, by law, a death investigation still had to be completed before his family could receive the death benefits they were owed.
That timeline was out of the control of the NCSHP.
“While we walk through the benefits process with families from the onset, we do not control the timeline for benefit approvals. Outside factors, such as awaiting the official autopsy report, often dictate the submission and approval of required paperwork,” NCSHP spokesman First Sergeant Christopher Knox said in a statement.
“A little-known fact is that they don’t continue to provide income for your family until you get those benefits,” Alexis Sanders said.
“So, it’s a known issue that there’s the laws that require things to take a while.”
Sanders died in late March. His family didn’t receive their death benefit payment until the week of Christmas.
In addition to losing her husband unexpectedly, Alexis Sanders was also unable to work as a hair stylist, since salons were ordered closed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had virtually no income overnight.
She had to rely on support from her family to make ends meet for her and her young daughter.
“You can’t help but think, like, what would the people that don’t have a support system like I do, what would they do?” she wondered.
That’s why she has created the Trooper Nolan Sanders Foundation, with the goal of being there to financially support future families of troopers killed in the line of duty.
“As much as I would like to make it to where no one else ever has to do this, that’s not reality,” she said. “But what I am able to do is make it better for someone else.”
In the meantime, the experience of the Sanders family is highlighting the need to cut red tape in the line of duty death benefits process.
North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell acknowledged the wait time the Sanders family faced waiting for their benefits.
“How long it takes between somebody getting killed in the line of duty and for that stuff to come to us is taking too long,” Folwell said.
His office is responsible for cutting the checks and disbursing the money. Before that can happen, though, the death investigation and necessary paperwork has to be completed.
Folwell said his office takes just one to two weeks to disburse benefit money once the paperwork is handed over.
“I believe that we could do a much better job through all the process,” he said. You don’t always need a law to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. And I think there’s a lot of common sense that can be applied to this particular issue so as to expedite this process and just lower the anxiety.”
Alexis Sanders’ new foundation is raising money to support future families in their time of mourning. The organization held its first golf tournament last month.
She said the support is necessary until the process changes.
“I think that if everyone that works for the state treated our family like they would want their own family to be treated, I think we would have a whole different dynamic,” she said. “But I think the reality is that’s not the case.”