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Study: Veterans claims neglected in Ohio

A study of Ohio’s veterans services program, released Friday, shows the state’s counties struggle to file federal claims for veterans and some smaller counties are inadequately funded to properly aid needy veterans.

Ohio’s Department of Veteran’s Services commissioned the $98,000 study of the program earlier this year to a Boston consulting firm, which the Hamilton JournalNews/Middletown Journal first reported Thursday. The study was initially proposed, in part, because counties were entitled to a collective $121 million in tax dollars during 2011, but half of that money was left unused by veterans service commissions across Ohio.

The study reveals Ohio offers many benefits, including burial assistance and transportation to medical appointments, that many other states don’t offer to those who have served.

But the numerous services offered by the veterans service commissions stationed in the state’s 88 counties may be hindering Ohio’s ability to help veterans file federal claims, according to the study.

“While the state’s numerous benefit programs demonstrate the strength of its commitment to Ohio veterans, the benefit analysis also suggest that this comprehensiveness may detract from the state’s performance in federal claims assistance,” the study concludes.

A 2011 federal expenditure report shows ranked Ohio 41st in the nation for federal expenditures per veteran and 45th for claims assistance, such as disability compensation and pension claims.

Ohio’s Department of Veterans Services has been working to train officers to include more supporting documentation when filing a federal claim on behalf of veterans, in hopes of speeding up the claims process, Mike McKinney, the department’s communication director said Friday.

“We work very hard to train our veterans service officers in all the counties to prepare the claims,” McKinney said of the study. “We believe there will be improvement in that area.”

Butler County’s Veteran Service Commission will host an information night to discuss a number of veterans services, including the federal claims process, at 5 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Butler County Government Services Building, 315 High St.

“A lot of veterans come in not knowing they’re eligible for any type of benefits,” Dan Biondo, the president of the Veterans Service Commission said of his agency. “When they do file claims they have to wait for them. It’s really sad because a lot of these veterans really need that money and deserve that money.”

The study also points to funding disparities in smaller counties versus bigger ones because of the way funding is collected for veterans services in Ohio. Veterans service commissions are entitled to a small portion of property taxes, roughly a 0.5 mill, to provide veteran aid. An investigation earlier this week by this newspaper found veterans service commissions in some of the state’s biggest counties often give tax dollars to other county programs while veterans service commissions in smaller counties use nearly every dollar of the money they collect.

Friday’s study confirmed the funding inequalities for some of the state’s counties because of the “unique county-based system.”

The study researched veterans agencies across the country to measure how Ohio’s program stacks up.

McKinney said the department will work with veterans leaders across the state on how to “move forward” with the study.

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