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Consumer Watch: Ohio paying bonuses to troops from Gulf, Iraq, Afghan wars

Oct. 4, 2010 - 11:01AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 4, 2010 - 11:01AM  |  
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If you're a resident of Ohio, you may have good reason to be happy.

The state is sending bonuses up to $1,500 to current and former service members who are legal residents and served during the 1991 Persian Gulf War or the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 200,000 people could qualify, based on Veterans Affairs Department population figures, said Jim Gravelle, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. Since the program was announced Aug. 24, about 30,000 applications have been submitted.

Ohio resident Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Stelmarski is a retiree recalled to active duty, now serving at Fort Knox, Ky. He said he received $300 from Ohio for his service during the Vietnam era and is careful about clarifying that he was never in theater.

Now, he may be eligible for an additional $500, without having served in combat. "I have mixed feelings on accepting the money, as for my over-20-year career in the Army, I have never served in a combat zone," he said. The majority of his career was spent assigned to a nuclear-capable unit on combat alert.

"With a portion of the money, I will do something special, as I am a historian and promote information on the history of the Pershing Missile System," he said.

To be eligible, service members or veterans must have been Ohio residents at the start of active duty and when they apply for the bonus.

The idea began in 2007 when Army Capt. Thomas Germano, a Mentor, Ohio, native serving in Iraq at the time, asked the state attorney general's office if Ohio offered any financial benefits to veterans of recent wars.

"The state did not at the time, but Capt. Germano's question prompted me to ask the legislature to ask voters to approve a bonus payment to veterans in salute of their service, just as Ohioans had done after World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam," Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said in his letter announcing the bonus.

Eligible are those who remain on active duty, were separated under honorable conditions or remain in any reserve component, including the Ohio National Guard.

Veterans and service members qualify for $100 for each month spent on active duty, up to $1,000, in the following theaters:

• Persian Gulf between Aug. 2, 1990, and March 3, 1991. Those eligible can apply for a bonus until Dec. 31, 2013.

• Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, and Iraq since March 19, 2003. Those eligible can apply for up to three years after the president declares an end to U.S. involvement in each theater.

In addition, Ohio resident veterans and service members who served on active duty — except for training only — anywhere else in the world during those times can get $50 per month of service, up to a total benefit of $500.

Those eligible may combine service bonuses for a maximum payment of $1,500 if they qualify under different areas.

Eligible veterans who were medically discharged or medically retired for combat-related disabilities during their service in these theaters can apply for a bonus of $1,000, regardless of their length of service in theater.

In addition, these veterans can apply for the $50 for each month of active-duty service outside the theater, up to $500.

Family members of deceased veterans may be eligible for $5,000 if their service member lost his life from injuries or illness in those theaters, on top of any bonus the veteran would have earned per month for service in those theaters.

If the death was not the result of injuries or illness sustained in the theaters, the family member would be eligible for what the veteran would have received as a bonus, up to the $1,500 limit.

Payment is made first to the spouse; if there is no spouse, then to the child or children. If there are no children, payment goes to parents or guardians.

Those who qualify should receive their bonus within six to eight weeks after submitting the application. That includes having the applicant's signature notarized by a notary public, or acknowledged by a clerk or deputy clerk at the courts of common pleas in Ohio counties.

The bonus is not subject to state or federal income taxes.

For more information, and to download the application, visit the https://veteransbonus.ohio.gov/odvs_web/">program's website or call 1-877-644-6838.

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