Ohio bonus program for Afghanistan veterans enters final year

Veterans have until Aug. 30, 2024 to apply for one-time bonuses of up to $1,500

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The state of Ohio’s Veterans Bonus program — a way to thank veterans who served in Afghanistan —is nearing completion, the Ohio Department of Veterans Services said.

The program pays those who served in the U.S. armed forces after Oct. 7, 2001. Eligible veterans may receive $500 for service anywhere in the world or $1,000 for service in a designated country, or the maximum $1,500 bonus.

After that, the veteran is not eligible for additional funds, the department said.

Service members who completed their deployments in Afghanistan and have not yet applied for the bonus can do so up until Aug. 30, 2024.

$9.5 million of funding was included in the state’s most recent biennial budget for the program, which will sunset in one year.

Sean McCarthy, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Veterans Services, served in Afghanistan in 2012 primarily. He applied for the bonus and was credited for 10 months of service there before he went to work for the department.

The idea of a veterans’ bonuses actually goes back to the Civil War, he said.

Today’s bonus pays people in two different categories — those who served in Afghanistan, and to anyone else who served during that war anywhere in the world.

“It is a traditional way for the state of Ohio to express its appreciation,” McCarthy said in an interview.

As long as the state receives an application by Aug. 30, 2024, the department will do itsbest to fulfill that application, he said.

His advice is to apply as soon as possible. To get a list of needed documents, and to apply for a bonus, go to www.ohiovets.gov/veteransbonus.

“We want to make sure that no one gets left behind on this,” McCarthy said.

In 2010, Ohio voters approved the sale of up to $200 million in bonds to fund the program.

Since then, the effort has paid $77.7 million to more than 97,000 veterans from the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

Historically, the vast majority of applicants are eligible, the department said. The current number of payouts for Ohioans who served in Afghanistan is 19,865.

I am thrilled that Gov. DeWine and the Ohio Legislature have fully funded this program so that all who served during the Afghanistan conflict receive the bonus they have earned,” said retired Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst, Ohio Department of Veterans Services director.

“This bonus is a wonderful form of gratitude, like a heartfelt ‘thank you’ from the citizens of Ohio,” she said. “We at the Department of Veterans Services are doing everything we can to encourage all eligible veterans and service members to apply.”

The payment is a one-time, service-based benefit, not a need-based benefit, said Bryan Suddith, administrative officer with the Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission. It is not income-based, and it’s not a financial assistance program.

He called it an “honoraium.”

“It’s a gift, it’s a recognition of their service in that conflict. We encourage them to apply,” Suddith said of veterans who served in Afghanistan.

The payment is a recognition of a veteran’s tour of duty. A colonel returning from Afghanistan will receive the same payment as, say, a private first-class, Suddith said.

He agreed the gift can be helpful to those in need.

The county veterans service commission, like similar commissions in other counties, has services and benefits that are not “one and done,” such as benefits for veterans having difficulty returning to civilian life, and assistance paying rent or utilties, or food vouchers, he said.

“In the course of a year, we may see a veteran four or five times,” Suddith said. “And for us, that’s what we’re here for.”

The commission has set a lifetime cap on financial assistance in Montgomery County of $25,000 for individual vets.

“Rarely do people get to that lifetime cap here,” Suddith said.

Representatives of the commission said earlier this year that the demand for veterans services is exploding.

The commission has a small staff of 14.

Nevertheless, the commission helped secure $5.2 million in awarded claims and back pay in 2022, and the office saw a 58% increase in Soldiers and Sailors Relief Fund spending, answering demand for food and help for veterans in paying rent and utilities.

When a veteran calls the commission at (937) 225-4801, the office’s goal is to “get to saying ‘Yes,’” Suddith said in April.

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