Veterans Assistance Commission denials soar as demand increases and donations drop

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File photo. The hands of veterans as they wait outside the meeting room for the Veteran's Assistance program on the first Monday of the month at Brookens Champaign County Building on Monday, November 3, 2014. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/C-U Citizen Access

The Veterans Assistance Commission receives $80,000 annually from Champaign County to help veterans with their utilities, mortgage or rent. 

The commission has assisted 422 veterans through November this year, but it has had to turn away many requests because donations that supplement the county money were down, said Brad Gould, the commission’s superintendent.

In 2019, the VAC recorded 61 denials of service to veterans. Through the 11 months of 2020, the number has risen to 176.

“The reason denials are up a little bit this year compared to last year is because I didn’t have that extra money,” Gould said.

In 2019, he had close to $18,000 from donations on top of the guaranteed $80,000. This year he’s only received $5,000 in donations in January before the pandemic hit.

Gould usually gets money from Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. Still, the Legion’s charity event was canceled during their March to June lockdown, leaving them without any extra money to donate. The Veterans Charity Ride, a nonprofit organization, had their motorcycle run withdrawn and was unable to help Gould out with donation money.

“They’re hurting just like any other small business, and a lot of donations, in general, are down ’cause people are just trying to keep their businesses alive,” Gould said. “I can’t help any extra people as I have in the past. The only thing that’s changed this year is, percentage-wise, I’m helping more out with rent (56 percent),” he said. 

For short-term emergencies on veterans turned away, Gould will work with state agencies to help a veteran out. But he’s limited by helping out with the mortgage, utilities, and rent. If it’s a serious enough case, Gould said he would get with different state organizations, VFW, American Legion, Salvation Army, the Veteran Affairs Department, and try to find the funding that way.

As part of the rules, Gould cannot help a veteran with a conduct discharge nor assist a veteran on parole, but none applied recently. 

Gould is hoping for a positive turn of events to assist more veterans by having these charity drives from other veteran organizations resume, to increase donations towards veterans living in Champaign County.  

Gould divides the money coming out to $6,600 per month. Once that level is reached, the money is shut off until the next month. 

Although there are exceptions, March of this year was the highest total of funds assisted, $8,057, and 44 veterans were helped. 

Gould does set aside $100 for a veteran who has never used the program and records how many people he had to turn away for a particular month. Just because they have turned away that month doesn’t mean they weren’t helped in the next month.

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