Utah Disabled Veterans Seek and Get Less Federal Money

Utah Disabled Veterans Seek and Get Less Federal Money

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- Disabled veterans in Utah seek and receive less federal money than those in many other states.

Veterans' representatives attribute the disparity to the state's underfunding outreach programs and on the western cultural stress on self-reliance.

"We've had it quite forcefully shown to us that although we have significantly larger numbers of veterans, we are millions of dollars behind," said Frank Maughan, state commander of the Disabled American Veterans.

Utah's 160,000 veterans receive $140 million annually in federal compensation and pension money.

In comparison, Maine's 145,000 veterans receive almost $270 million.

Maine has five outreach offices to assist veterans in gaining federal money available to them, which Utah has just one office with just two full-time employees, said Terry Schow, director of the Utah Division of Veterans Affairs.

The Utah program needs more money from the state to inform veterans about the services and funding the government provides them, Schow said.

Pride among veterans, especially in Western states, is seen as another factor.

"The culture here is paying your own way, being self-sufficient," said Maughan, who has service-connected disabilities stemming from two tours in Vietnam. He receives about $800 per month in federal compensation to cover the costs of his prescription medications.

"Too many veterans think applying for VA compensation is like applying for welfare," Schow said.

Veterans are too proud to collect a handout and need to be told that they have earned it, he said.

Utah's division receives only $75,000 per year in funding from the state, Schow said. Staff from a single Ogden office must travel north to Logan and south to St. George to meet with veterans and help them apply for aid.

"In order for us to reach them, it costs us a lot of time and money," Schow said. "In a more perfect world, we would have offices in central Utah and Southern Utah."

On July 1, the state will increase the office's funding by $100,000 for one year, but Schow said he would like to see the funding ongoing.

"It is hard to measure the success of any program in one year," he said. "I hope we'll be allowed to continue these efforts, because right now it is a pretty small operation."

And it is time for that operation to grow proportional with the veteran population, Schow said.

"There are certainly hundreds, if not maybe several thousands, of Utah vets due compensation," he said. "That number grows each day as more veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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