Report reveals Butler County spends more on salaries than veteran assistance

A Butler County commission charged with providing financial assistance to veterans spends more in staff salaries than they pay out to those who may be in need, according to numbers uncovered by the Hamilton Journal-News/Middletown Journal.

The newspaper studied 88 county veteran service commissions in Ohio and found that Butler County turned away 40 percent of its 432 veterans’ applications for help in 2012. That is more than any other county in Ohio.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” said Dan Biondo, the president of the Butler County Veterans Service Commission.  “I feel bad. I guess we are to blame. We need to be more lenient and approve more applications because we have the money to do it.”

Between 1,000 and 2,000 veterans are living below the poverty line in Butler County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Butler County awarded aid 223 times in 2012.

“We can’t make them come in and apply,” said Anna O’Neil, assistant direct for Butler’s veterans service.

Records collected by the Journal-News show the Butler County commission spent $1.3 million of its allotted $3.7 million budget in 2012. Thirteen percent of the budget spent paid for emergency financial assistance. Another 15 percent, or $265,000, was used to transport veterans to medical appointments.

In comparison, the executive-director of Butler County’s veterans service Curtis McPherson received a $4,000 raise for 2013, receiving an annual salary of $91,420 this year. Five commissioners who also serve on the board will collect between $7,000 and $14,000, according to the Hamilton Journal-News.

The way the commission works, McPherson is able to deny any application for aid. The commissioners can hear appeals.

“We give assistance to the veterans that are trying to help themselves,” McPherson told the newspaper. “It’s emergency temporary financial assistance, it’s not a supplemental income.”

Butler County determines need for aid through an 87-page guideline book. The Journal-News discovered that each county in Ohio handles financial guidelines differently for veteran commissions.

O’Neil said the commission’s guidelines are constantly reviewed to balance the needs of veterans and their responsibility to taxpayers.

“We’ve been told we have to be good stewards of taxpayer money,” O’Neil said. “That’s what we try to be.”

O'Neil added that the Butler office offers additional services, such as door-to-door transportation and food supplement funding amounts comparable to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provided through the USDA.

"We also try to find an agency that can provide assistance when we can't," she said.

The Journal-News found Warren County pays its director $62,504 a year and each commissioner $12,000. Warren County also spent three times the amount Butler County did on assisting 840 of the county’s approximate 16,500 veterans in 2012.

Warren County also places a lifetime limit of $1,500 in aid for veterans and their families.

“When people are coming to see us, they’re going through a rough patch in life. We try to go above and beyond in assisting these folks,” Eversole said. “It’s hard at the same time because sometimes we have to tell people things they don’t want to hear.”

McPherson told the Journal-News his Butler County agency is being very responsible with taxpayer dollars  in how it disperses emergency funds.

“We respect the taxpayer money,” McPherson said.

Read the full Hamilton News-Journal/ Middletown Journal report here:

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