Arizona fund aids more military families, veterans each year

By Chase Cook, News21

A growing number of veterans, active duty service members and their families are asking the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services for help in making ends meet.
These are families whose chief providers are soldiers or veterans who were affected or left debilitated by combat.

In one instance the department paid to build a ramp for a disabled soldier. In April a soldier committed suicide; the department gave his family money for six months of help to pay bills.

The relief fund committee approved four awards totaling $14,722 in 2008, the first year of the program. Last year the committee approved 165 awards for $510,318.63. Overall, families have received about $1.36 million, according to Arizona Veterans’ Services. In May, at the monthly meeting, the Arizona Military Family Relief Fund committee considered six applications and approved three.

Those eligible include Arizona active-duty soldiers and veterans who served in combat after 9/11 and their families. They must have claimed Arizona as home when they entered military service, deployed with the Arizona National Guard or deployed from an Arizona military installation, according to Arizona Veterans’ Services.

The increase in applicants is mostly from changes to the relief fund’s qualifying criteria, which originally considered awards for soldiers or veterans who were physically injured or families of soldiers killed in combat, committee chairman and retired Air Force Col. Randy Meyer said.

“We are the stewards of this program,” Meyer said. “We have to do it right the first time.”

Meeting minimum qualification, however, doesn’t mean approval. The committee discusses every application, which features personal finance information and third-party verification of combat involvement and injuries. The committee then debates whether to support the application.

The three applications tabled or denied at the May 21 meeting in Phoenix were fraught with questions about debit card use, ATM withdrawals at casinos and the applicant’s inability to prove that hardship was combat related.

The committee is judicious with the money it gives out, and even with the program’s growth, Meyer said there isn’t an issue of applicants going without. All the money comes from private donors who receive state tax credits up to $400 for couples and $200 for singles. The Arizona Legislature sets a $1 million annual cap on tax credits for the program.