A decade ago, Ohio voters approved a bond issue to fund bonuses for veterans but with just $2.68 million left in the program, the money could run out before the war in Afghanistan ends — raising the prospect that some veterans could miss out.
The bonus payouts are scheduled to end three years after the president has declared an end to hostilities in that country, the Ohio constitution says.
So far, $75.8 million has been paid out to 89,808 veterans of the conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. The application window is now closed for veterans of the wars in the Persian Gulf and Iraq. Vets are eligible for up to $1,500 in bonus pay that is tax exempt.
“At the current rate of the program, we are projecting to fund the Veterans Bonus through fiscal year 2021. At that time, the administration could recommend an amendment to the constitution for a new bond issue,” said Ohio Department of Veterans Services spokeswoman Melanie Amato.
The payments began in August 2010.
Voters authorized selling up to $200 million in bonds for the program but the state sold and set aside $83.9 million. State officials decided to sell fewer bonds based on claims history and the expectation at the time that U.S. troops would pull out of Afghanistan in late 2014.
The Dayton region is home to 122,330 veterans, around 19,000 who fought or served in Afghanistan and Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to 2016 U.S. Census data.
Abraham Hall, a vet who served two tours in Afghanistan, said he understands when the program began that leaders didn’t expect the war to still be going on in 2018. But, Hall said if Ohio’s office-holders are serious about helping veterans then they need to figure out how to “rebuild” the program.
“I think there are quite a few organizations that are running into this issue for the same reason, we didn’t think this war would still be going on,” Hall said. “It’s an unfortunate side effect of a prolonged militaristic engagement.”
The Montgomery County Veterans Service Commission helps vets file for benefits with the Veterans Administration and other agencies, including the bonuses offered to vets in Ohio. But, executive director Mark Landers said that not many vets have sought help recently to apply for the bonuses offered by the state.
That could be because the Ohio Department of Veteran Services is not actively marketing the bonus program, other than placing information on its website, said Amato.
“They should be marketing it, period,” Landers said. “They should be advertising this bonus to veterans.”
Former state treasurer Richard Cordray advocated for the veterans bonus bond program. In 2010, Cordray estimated that 200,000 Ohio veterans would qualify for payments.
The bonus program is similar to what voters have approved in the past. Voters approved financial thank-you programs for veterans after World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Though the programs have come to fruition through ballot initiatives, Landers said that he thinks state legislators should take the lead in trying to fix the bonus system. Landers said he would be reaching out to area state lawmakers about the issue.
“What I think they should do is they should pass legislation whereby every military person, whatever capacity they served in…gets a bonus that previous veterans and soldiers received,” Landers said.
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