NOBLESVILLE— A Noblesville veteran is speaking up about thousands of dollars in missing benefits in Hamilton County.
It’s an update to a story WRTV Investigates first brought you earlier this week that revealed veteran claims for benefits were never even filed — resulting in hundreds of veterans missing thousands of dollars in benefits.
David Crowmer is a veteran, a Marine and former military police officer who served in Afghanistan.
The service took its toll on his mental and physical health.
“I had a traumatic brain injury from the Marine Corps,” said Crowmer. “I would get headaches every night and would have to take medicine every single night. I still do."
Crowmer went to the Hamilton County Veteran Services Office, located in the county’s judicial center, in 2017 to apply for disability benefits.
"I tried to seek assistance, and nothing happened, so I felt a bit of humiliation,” said Crowmer.
Years went by, and Crowmer didn’t hear anything— so he assumed his claim was denied.
That is until four years later, in 2021, when his brother, who is also a veteran, was at the Hamilton County Veteran Services Office.
Crowmer learned his claim had never been filed in the first place.
"It is definitely concerning,” said Crowmer. “I don’t know if I would have received an email or been told to come in if it weren’t for my brother. So that’s what’s concerning.”
Crowmer estimates he’s owed four years of benefits totaling $70,000.
“That could have done a lot,” said Crowmer. “The healthcare side, that would have been more important for me to receive the healthcare."
Hamilton County blames its former County Veteran Service Officer, Lynn Epperson, saying she failed to file dozens or potentially hundreds of claims.
The county filed a lawsuit on October 26 against the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging he failed to properly supervise Epperson.
WRTV Investigates asked Hamilton County what they’re doing to notify impacted veterans and what they’re doing to make veterans like David Crowmer whole.
We are still waiting for those answers.
A county spokesperson also declined Friday to comment on Crowmer’s case specifically.
"I think if there was more accountability and transparency from the county during this situation, maybe some veterans could realize they weren't being assisted and came forward,” said Crowmer.
The Noblesville veteran is concerned these mistakes could have a chilling effect on veterans being willing to apply for benefits.
"I'm speaking out because I'm a veteran and I'm concerned for other veterans,” said Crowmer. “Let them know it's OK to come and ask for help even though you may have been ignored once. "
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.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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