Created on Saturday, 31 August 2013 Written by REGINA GARCIA CANO, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Despite offering one of the most comprehensive benefit packages to veterans nationwide, Ohio's county based structure for funding the agencies tasked with assisting needy veterans creates vast disparities between urban and rural areas, a new state commissioned report has found.
Following the study's release Friday, the spokesman for the Ohio Department of Veteran Services, Mike McKinney, defended the funding system, saying that it allows each county to make decisions based on its needs.
He added that it is premature to say whether any changes will be implemented as a result of the study's findings.
McKinney said the state commissioned the $98,000 study with the purpose of identifying "nationwide best practices" in assisting those who have served.
The report, conducted by a private consulting firm, does not propose specific improvements or restructuring. Instead, it examines Ohio's veteran services and compares them with "successful models" used by other states.
In Ohio, each of the 88 counties has an agency responsible for giving financial assistance to veterans. The Veterans Service Commissions help veterans with paying bills, filling out federal benefits forms or arranging transportation to and from doctor's appointments.
The funding each commission receives varies widely since it is based on a small percentage of the county's property tax collections and the veteran population. For example, Athens County generated about $465,000 in 2012, while Butler County — home to one of the state's largest veteran populations — got around $3.7 million, The Hamilton JournalNews reported this week.
The analysis said Ohio, where about 900,000 veterans live, is one of the few states with a system in which direct services to veterans are delivered almost entirely by local agencies.
The report concluded that although the state provides some services that are not available to veterans in other states, the depth of Ohio's services may be hindering its ability to help veterans file federal benefits claims.
"While the state's numerous benefit programs demonstrate the strength of its commitment to Ohio veterans ... the benefit analysis also suggests that this comprehensiveness may detract from the state's performance in federal claims assistance," the report stated.
McKinney said the department plans to share the findings with state lawmakers and veterans leaders to determine how they can be used "to maximize the quality of services to veterans."
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