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Ohio veterans running out of time to seek bonuses

CINCINNATI (AP) — Time is running out for eligible military veterans to claim Ohio bonuses of up to $1,500, and officials are worried that thousands of veterans may miss out by not applying.

Navy veteran Robert Erb III describes his bonus for service in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan war eras as a “real blessing” for him and his family.

“You don’t join for the benefits, but they can really help when you come back home,” said Erb, 41, of northeast Ohio’s Fairport Harbor.

Ohio voters in 2009 approved a $200 million bond issue to fund bonuses for veterans of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq war eras, and the Persian Gulf-era application deadline is Dec. 31.

While over $55.7 million has been paid to more than 66,000 veterans or family members for all three bonus periods since August 2010, there could be as many as 90,000 who haven’t applied, including probably several thousand from the Persian Gulf era, according to the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.

“Our Persian Gulf-era veterans need to take action right away,” department Director Tom Moe said.

While about 10,000 veterans from that era have received bonuses, officials can’t say how many still need to apply, department spokesman Michael McKinney said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates just over 100,000 Ohioans served during the Persian Gulf era. But the VA looks at a longer time period than the bonus period and state and county officials say they don’t get general information from the Department of Defense on returning veterans and when they served.

The VA estimates that 75,000 to 80,000 Ohioans have served since 9/11.

State officials and county veterans commissions that help with the applications have worked to provide bonus information through traditional media ads, social media, veterans events and other means. The state last week approved a direct mailing to Ohioans with birthdays from 1950 or later who identify themselves as veterans on driver’s license renewals, McKinney said.

But officials know they haven’t reached everyone.

The executive director of the Cuyahoga County Veterans Service Commission in northeast Ohio says veterans tend to put more weight on “what they hear from fellow veterans.”

“Despite all we do to get the word out, most tell us: ‘My buddy told me,”’ Robert Schloendorn said.

The executive director of the Butler County Veterans Service Commission in southwest Ohio believes some may be reluctant because “they think it’s a handout.”

“It’s not a handout,” Executive Director Curtis McPherson said. “It’s a thank you they earned for serving their country.”

Eligible veterans must have been Ohio residents when entering the service and when applying for bonuses. They also must have served at least 90 days of active duty — excluding training — in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Ohio National Guard or reserves.

Persian Gulf-era bonuses require service sometime from Aug. 2, 1990, through March 3, 1991. The Iraq-era time is March 19, 2003, through Dec. 31, 2011, with a Dec. 31, 2014, application deadline. The Afghanistan eligibility period covers Oct. 7, 2001, to an end time yet to be determined until the conflict’s official conclusion.

Bonuses are open to all eligible Ohio veterans for the compensated periods, regardless of where they served, though those serving in specified war zones would receive higher ones. Family members of those killed in action or who died from injuries or disease resulting from service in specified war zones could receive up to $6,500.

Army veteran Matt Jones, 31, of Hamilton in Butler County, says his bonus for serving in Iraq was a big help in paying bills and wants other veterans to know “it can only help.”