GovWatch: Veteran aid official almost gets veteran fired

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When a homeless veteran asked his local veteran services office for help last week, the director of the office wrote to the veteran’s employer complaining about his body odor, almost getting him fired.

Sean Pendell, an Army veteran who served in the first Gulf War, went to the Mercer County Veterans Service Commission to ask about housing assistance. Pendell works all the hours he can get at a Celina Sonic restaurant, but said he is sleeping at friends’ houses until he can afford rent or a house payment.

Pendell went to the county office on his day off. The next day, he received a call from work that Mercer County Veteran Service Officer Tom Risch wrote an email to Sonic complaining about him.

“To be within five feet of this person is uncomfortable because of the body odor,” Risch wrote in the email that was passed along to Pendell. “I enjoy your food but will tell you that as of yesterday you lost several customers because we discovered this individual works in your facility.”

When contacted for comment Monday, Risch said he was not trying to get Pendell fired. But he stood by his comments.

“I’m glad to hear that (he wasn’t fired), and hopefully this will be a wake-up call to him to get a little closer to a bar of soap on a daily basis,” he said.

Pendell said his general manager defended him to the company higher-ups. In another email, the general manager wrote, “He is an extremely hard worker and is very clean. Shirt is always stain free. Pants are nice and pressed, and apron is always clean.”

Pendell said he probably did smell bad that day. He is a cook at the restaurant and worked a closing shift the night before, then went home and took a nap before driving some friends to work in the morning. He napped again in the car, he said, before heading to the veterans service office.

“My initial thought was maybe he just lost his mind,” Pendell said of hearing about the email. “I honestly thought the veterans administration, he’s supposed to be there as my advocate, he’ supposed to be on my team. What’s going on?”

Risch is in charge of the two-person county office, which is tasked with helping veterans with emergency aid and helping them get the most out of their federal veterans benefits.

An I-Team investigation last year found wide disparity in how Ohio's 88 county veterans services commissions treat veterans. Differences include funding — the property tax-funded system leaves affluent counties with more money than they need and poor counties with not enough — and big differences in denial rates for emergency aid.

IG: Worker hid boyfriend’s rap sheet

An Ohio Job and Family Services employee tweaked unemployment compensation records to hide the fact that her unemployed boyfriend had been incarcerated, which would have made him ineligible for unemployment compensation, according to the Ohio Inspector General.

In a report last month, the IG explained how they worked with the Ohio Highway Patrol on the investigation of Carrie Menser, a JFS customer service representative in Akron.

In addition to helping her boyfriend get automatic deposits for unemployment payments for which he didn’t qualify, the IG said she obtained a debit card for his account and skimmed money for her own purchases and cash withdrawals.

Menser was charged with two counts of theft in office, one count of tampering with records and one count of unauthorized use of a computer.

Public worker seizes ‘economic opportunity’

Suffice to say, it has been a bad few weeks for the image of public servants in northeast Ohio.

In additon to the above, a former executive from Head Start and other anti-poverty groups in Cleveland pleaded guilty in federal court this month to accepting more than $23,000 in illegal goods and services, according to the Associated Press.

Per the AP: Prosecutors say Jacqueline Middleton of Shaker Heights accepted work on her home and other things of value from two contractors who worked for the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland.