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Lawsuit: Benefits lost for hundreds of Hamilton County veterans

A County Veterans Service Office is tasked with helping veterans apply for and obtain benefits
Hamilton County filed a complaint against Dennis Wimer, the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging Wimer failed to properly train and supervise the former Hamilton County Veteran Service Officer (VSO).
Posted at 2:35 PM, Nov 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-10 13:39:32-05

HAMILTON COUNTY — Hundreds of veterans in Hamilton County have lost benefits they were entitled to, according to a lawsuit filed on October 26.

Hamilton County filed a complaint against Dennis Wimer, the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging Wimer failed to properly train and supervise the former Hamilton County Veteran Service Officer (VSO).

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 complaint.

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

“As a result, the benefits (including retroactive benefits) for hundreds of veterans have been lost,” read the lawsuit.

Monthly benefit ranges from $140 to $4,200.

Veterans may also be entitled to lump sum payments retroactive to the date the claim was filed.

Hamilton County alleges Epperson’s delay in filing claims resulted in veterans losing a “substantial amount of retroactive payments.”

The lawsuit alleges employees left files with Epperson that required urgent action, only to discover after Epperson’s termination that Epperson never took any action on many claims.

“Numerous doctor’s offices confirmed they had faxed veterans’ medical records to the office, but Epperson had not placed the records in the veterans’ files,” read the lawsuit. “Epperson lied to employees about the status of claims, and as a result, office employees would unknowingly provide false information to veterans regarding their claims.”

Concerned about Epperson’s performance, the county reviewed open files from August 2018 to July 2019 to see if tasks were completed.

As of September 2019, it reviewed 218 files and of those, 180 claims had either not been filed correctly or not filed at all.

“This was a significant failure on Epperson’s part, which put hundreds of veterans at risk of losing their benefits,” read the lawsuit.

Hamilton County says it has repeatedly asked the state for help in remedying the issues involving Epperson, but claim the state refused to do so, claiming it had no responsibility over the VSO’s employment.

“To date, the state has not agreed to cooperate,” read the lawsuit.

WRTV Investigates reached out to IDVA, who disagreed with the county’s claim they are supposed to oversee County Veteran Service Officers.

Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs Statement:

“IDVA denies the claims made by Hamilton County. The statute cited in the lawsuit has never been interpreted the way Hamilton County prefers. Counties, not the state, have the responsibility for hiring, supervising, evaluating, giving pay raises, and, if needed, firing employees who work in their county veterans offices. Hamilton County discovered problems three years ago, and IDVA went above and beyond to help. IDVA works to support, serve, and advocate for the Indiana veteran community, and it is unfortunate that some veterans’ lives could be adversely affected by the problems that occurred in the veterans office of Hamilton County. “ 

It's not clear if Hamilton County has notified veterans about problems involving their benefits.

Hamilton County has not answered the following questions from WRTV:

  • What is the total # of veterans impacted?
  • Have the veterans been notified, and how?
  • How much money has not been allocated to veterans?
  • What being done to get them their money? Is there any other entity that is responsible for making these veterans whole?

Instead WRTV received the following statement on behalf of the Hamilton County Commissioners.

“The Board of Hamilton County Commissioners is committed to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served our country and welcome an objective solution to the problem at hand, so our veterans can collect the benefits they are due.

We have been in discussion with the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs for nearly two years in an attempt to address issues caused by a Hamilton County Veteran Service Officer’s (CVSO) handling of claims. Unfortunately, we have been unable to come to a consensus on how the issue should be resolved.

This lawsuit is seeking clarity as to which entity, the State or the County, is responsible for the training, supervision and evaluation of the VSO under the governing statutes. From the County’s perspective, I.C. 10-17-1-9 clearly states the State is responsible for the training, supervision, and evaluation of the VSO. Specifically, I.C. 10-17-1-9(c)(3) states the VSO shall “. . . serve under the supervision of the State director of veteran’s affairs.” Additionally, I.C. 10-17-1-9(e) provides more clarity stating, “a rule contrary to subsection (c) or (d) is void.” It is our hope that a determination of this question will allow the parties to proceed together in finding a solution for our veterans.”

WRTV received an additional statement from the Hamilton County Commissioners on November 10.

“As stated in the lawsuit, the County estimates hundreds of veterans have lost thousands of dollars as a result of the former VSO’s failure to properly conduct her job and the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs’ failure to adequately supervise that VSO. The County previously issued a statement related to the lawsuit, and will await the Court’s guidance on its position that the State is statutorily responsible for training and supervising the VSO.”

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A County Veterans Service Office is tasked with helping veterans apply for and obtain benefits in several categories including burial, education and training, health care, home loans, life insurance, pension and vocational rehabilitation and employment.

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 has not been criminally charged nor is she named as a defendant in Hamilton County’s lawsuit against Dennis Wimer.

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

Statement from the Indiana County Veteran Service Officer Association:

"The Indiana Veteran Service Officers Association is aware of the lawsuit filed by Hamilton County against the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. Hamilton County is claiming the Department is responsible for the poor performance of the county Veterans Service Officer from 2014 through 2019 and for resulting loss of benefits to county veterans.

Under Indiana law, county executives choose who to appoint or employ as county service officers. (IC 10-17-1-9(a)(1).) Neither the Director nor the Department of Veterans Affairs has hiring authority. The Department also has no authority to fire a county service officer. The Commission of the Department may recommend termination (915 IN Admin Code 915 IAC 1-1-7), but the county makes the ultimate decision.

In its lawsuit, Hamilton County admits it appointed a service officer who did not work in the best interests of military veterans. Despite what it calls "ongoing performance issues," the county kept her on the job for five years. Instead of pursuing a lawsuit seeking to shift blame for past decisions, the Indiana Veteran Service Officers Association urges Hamilton County to focus on restoration of benefits for veterans who have been harmed and on oversight of its employees to guard against future issues."

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