State of Ohio offers bonuses to veterans

The Blade
The Blade

COLUMBUS — The end of the United States' longest war in Afghanistan is about to trigger the start of a three-year clock for its veterans to apply for cash bonuses approved by Ohio voters a dozen years ago at a time when the nation was embroiled in two post-9/11 hot spots.

“The money for combat bonuses has always been intended to be a material and sincere thank-you from the people of Ohio to fellow citizens who have served in active status during the war,” said Sean McCarthy, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Veterans’ Services, or DVS, and a veteran of the Afghanistan War.

“The amount of money may not seem like any kind of fair compensation for what the people who have served and seen combat have suffered,” he said. “I do not believe that it is compensation but is intended to be a manifestation of gratitude from their neighbors and fellow Ohioans.”

The three-year clock is expected to start around Thursday, but the Sept. 30 date has not yet been officially set.

Thursday marks one month after the final U.S. troops were flown out of the airport at Kabul, beating President Biden's deadline for ending the war by one day. The pullout occurred less than two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

A firestorm of criticism erupted over how the withdrawal was conducted. Even as the United States evacuated troops and certain Afghan citizens, the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military collapsed as a resurgent Taliban swiftly retook the country.

Ohio voters in 2009 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the borrowing of up to $200 million to compensate veterans of the then-ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Ohio's tradition of providing veteran bonuses dates back to the Civil War, but the windows for seeking bonuses for prior wars, including Iraq and the Persian Gulf, have closed.

Afghanistan veterans who served honorably may visit or call 1-877-644-6838 to apply for up to $1,500: $100 for every month in the war zone up to a $1,000 maximum and $50 for each month of duty outside war zones to a $500 maximum.

Survivors of those killed in the line of duty or declared missing in action or a prisoner of war may apply for benefits of $5,000.

According to Veterans’ Services, Ohio has paid $23.4 million in bonuses to date to Afghanistan war-zone veterans. That compares to the total of $31.3 million paid out for the Iraq war zone and $6.2 million for the Persian Gulf.

Another $10.8 million has been paid in connection with service outside Afghanistan and Iraq and $5.6 million outside the Persian Gulf.

So far, the state has borrowed about $84 million out of the total $200 million authorized under the constitutional amendment. Mr. McCarthy said past bonuses have never maxed out the total authorization.

A U.S.-led coalition of forces invaded Afghanistan weeks after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. McCarthy, a former Franklin County assistant prosecutor, volunteered for duty with the Army and was sent to Afghanistan.

Before joining DVS, the veteran applied for and received a bonus of roughly $1,000, saying he found the process to be easy and quick.

“I hope the men and women who served in Afghanistan continue to feel pride in their service,” he said. “I had the privilege of serving alongside people of extraordinary commitment who answered the nation's calls. The value of service does not depend on the outcome of political decision-making.

“I'm not trying to say anything about the American or Afghanistan governments, but at the end of the day leaders make decisions about war and service members execute those decisions,” he said.

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