Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (2024)

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind.— The President of the Hamilton County Commissioners says the county is looking at options, including possibly using county funds, to help veterans impacted by a situation that left some vets without benefits they were entitled to.

“We want to do whatever we can to help our veterans,” said Mark E. Heirbrandt, Hamilton County Commissioner for District 3. “That would be my vote. I don’t care where it comes from. We need to take care of our veterans.”

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (1)

WRTV

It’s an update to a story WRTV Investigates first brought you in 2022 that revealed veteran claims for benefits were never even filed — resulting in Hamilton County families missing thousands of dollars in benefits.

WRTV Investigates obtained an internal email that estimated between 1,200 to 2,500 veterans were negatively affected, and the projected loss to families was around $45 million.

However, Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt told WRTV he did not believe the numbers were not accurate and declined to provide any estimates.

On May 17, a judge ruled in favor of Hamilton County in its lawsuit filed against Dennis Wimer, the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA).

The lawsuit, filed in October 2022, alleged Wimer failed to properly train and supervise the former Hamilton County Veteran Service Officer (VSO) Lynn Epperson.

After Epperson left in 2019, the county discovered she had failed to timely submit claims seeking monthly disability benefits for many veterans.

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (2)

Kara Kenney

The judge ruled the IDVA director holds a statutory responsibility to supervise County Veteran Service Officers (VSOs).

"If the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs does not exist to perform this task, then one might reasonably question its purpose" wrote the judge in his May 17 ruling.

Now, veterans in Hamilton County want to know what the plan is to help them out financially.

“I’m tired of giving and giving and giving,” said David McCormick, an Army veteran who lives in Westfield with his wife, Cindy. “I need something in exchange for this. I need to make sure she is taken care of.”

McCormick served in Desert Storm and left the army in 1991.

The next year, he married Cindy.

“He grabbed my ponytail while he was still asleep and threw me against the wall thinking I was a grenade,” said Cindy. “That’s when I realized he was having nightmares about what was happening in Dessert Storm.”

David struggles with PTSD and a progressive form of dementia, called Lewy Body dementia, which causes a decline in thinking and movement abilities.

“He will die,” said Cindy. “In the time we have left, I just want to live.”

The McCormicks are just one of many families impacted by the controversy involving Hamilton County and IDVA and the county’s former Veteran Service Officer, Lynn Epperson.

Cindy and David estimate they’re missing $10,000 in benefits because of the Epperson’s actions.

“It’s not acceptable,” said Cindy. “They hired her. (Hamilton County) is responsible.”

The McCormicks hope the judge’s ruling means they will see some resolution regarding their benefits.

David Crowner in Noblesville is also waiting to hear what the plan is to help veterans like him.

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (3)

Kara Kenney

PREVIOUS | Veteran calls for accountability and transparency over missing benefits

Crowmer said in 2017, the Hamilton County Veteran Service Office never filed his claim in the first place, leaving him without four years worth of benefits totaling $70,000.

Hamilton County’s former VSO, Lynn Epperson, was appointed in 2014 by the Hamilton County Commissioners and removed from office in December 2019 “due to ongoing performance issues,” read the lawsuit.

Crowner says as of June 2024, he still has not received any compensation for his lost benefits.

WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney sat down with Mark Heirbrandt, President of the Hamilton County Commissioners, in the hopes of finding out the county’s plan to help veterans left in limbo by the situation with the former VSO.

  • Kenney: What is your reaction to the judge siding with Hamilton County?
  • Heirbrandt: I think it’s a huge victory for our veterans not only in Hamilton County, but the state.
  • Kenney: What can be done now to help these veterans?
  • Heirbrandt: I think this is a bigger issue. It’s not just Hamilton County. We just had the guts to bring it forward.
  • Kenney: Is it possible the county could use some of its own dollars to address this situation?
  • Heirbrandt: We offered to the state to pay for half of it just to help our local veterans out. They said no.
  • Kenney: Is that offer off the table?
  • Heirbrandt: We want to do whatever we can to help our veterans. That would be my vote. I don't care where it comes from. We need to take care of our veterans.
  • Kenney: So you’re considering it?
  • Heirbrandt: It’s never been discussed. This ruling just came out.
  • Kenney: Has the county been able to determine how many veterans have been impacted?
  • Heirbrandt: I think we’ve got a pretty good idea. I can tell you the IDVA definitely knows.
  • Kenney: Any estimates on dollar amounts?
  • Heirbrandt: I would hate to speculate.

WRTV Investigates obtained an internal email that estimated between 1,200 to 2,500 veterans were negatively affected, and the projected loss in benefits was around $45 million.

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (4)

Brad Forestal

Lisa Charles, the VSO who followed Lynn Epperson, wrote in the email that the $45 million includes disability benefits and other possible losses including VA Home loans, deceased veterans/claimants, GI bills, healthcare benefits and property tax deductions.

Charles sent the email in February 2023 to several county officials including Director of Administration at the County Commissioners Lee Buckingham and Dianna Lynch, Assistant Director of Administration.

However, Heirbrandt is not listed as a recipient on the email.

WRTV Investigates shared a copy of the email with Heirbrandt.

“I’ve never seen that,” said Heirbrandt.

WRTV Investigates asked if the numbers are accurate.

“I would say no,” said Heirbrandt. “Not from what I’ve seen from the IDVA.”

WRTV Investigates contacted IDVA but the agency declined an on-camera interview.

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (5)

WRTV

A spokesperson for IDVA declined to comment on whether Hamilton County offered to provide financial help to veterans impacted.

IDVA did provide a written statement.

“The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) firmly believes the trial court erred in its ruling,” read the IDVA statement. “We are currently working with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office concerning an appeal.”

Heirbrandt said veterans with unresolved issues should reach out to the VSO in their community.

Cindy McCormick says she has done that and she asked for a copy of her husband’s entire file.

Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (6)

Kara Kenney

“I’m hoping it’s made right,” said Cindy.

Hamilton County is home to more than 13,300 veterans.

WRTV reached out to Lynn Epperson for comment, and we are still waiting to hear back.

She was not named as a defendant in Hamilton County’s lawsuit against IDVA Director Dennis Wimer.

If you're a veteran impacted by this situation, you can contact WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney at kara.kenney@wrtv.com or 317-432-9704.

FULL STATEMENT FROM INDIANA DEPT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

"The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) firmly believes that the trial court erred in its ruling. We are currently working with the Indiana Attorney General's Office concerning an appeal.

IDVA is encouraged by the previous support given by the Indiana Veteran Service Officer Association. They are the membership organization for all County Veteran Service Officers in Indiana. The association disagrees with the court's ruling. We appreciate their continuing support.

It is unfortunate Hamilton County did not timely notify IDVA of the problems its county veteran service office and its county employee, who was serving in the role of County Veteran Service Officer before they fired her, were having and their initial resistance to IDVA's offer of assistance.

All Hamilton County veteran claims that may have been impacted were submitted to the US Department of Veterans Affairs in 2020. All have been fully evaluated and decided. Claimants who need additional help can contact IDVA, a Veteran Service Organization, or their local County Veteran Service Officer."

FULL FROM INDIANA VETERANS SERVICE ASSOCIATION

"The Indiana Veterans Service Officer Association does not agree nor support the court ruling on who has oversight of County Veteran Service Officers. Unlike many of the States in the United States, Indiana's CVSO Offices are only funded by county revenue with zero state funds for the office of the CVSO's. Direct oversight is with the County that the CVSO falls within. It is the opinion of the IVSOA that the Hamilton County's Elected officers failed on that oversight. The partnership with IDVA and the IVSOA is committed on working on Indiana veterans issues for the state. IVSOA in the future would greatly appreciate opportunity for the conversation on possible funding from the State with parnership from the IDVA."

Alex Dobson, President of the Indiana Veterans Service Association

Copyright 2024 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Hamilton County veterans push county and state for answers over missing benefits (2024)
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