CEDAR RAPIDS — In 2003, as more Iowans were being called to active-duty service in the war on terror, the Iowa Legislature created the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund to assist veterans who met income and asset guidelines.
The goal was a $50 million fund to help veterans meet needs that weren’t covered by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs or other programs. That would include helping qualified veterans and their families for expenses such as job training or college tuition assistance; some dental, vision and hearing assistance; and individual or family counseling programs.
Originally, no funds could be spent until reaching $50 million, but in 2006 the Legislature determined that funds could be spent when the principal reached $5 million. The following year, the Iowa Veterans Affairs Commission began spending the interest on the fund.
However, because the principal grew so slowly, lawmakers approved a plan to use Iowa Lottery revenue to fund the trust. At first, revenue from games specifically dedicated to assisting veterans was directed to the trust. Later, it was decided the lottery would make a $2.5 million appropriation to the trust each year.
Today, the fund has grown to more than $28 million.
What’s Happening Now
Steve Lukan, a northeast Iowa Navy veteran who was in the Legislature when the Veterans Trust Fund was created, now oversees it as executive director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
He’s optimistic that the trust will be fully funded at $50 million within nine to 10 years.
“We’ll get there,” he said, explaining that each year $2 million of the lottery proceeds goes toward the trust’s principal. The other $500,000, along with interest on the principal, is spent on assisting veterans.
Lukan, who has been at his post for a year, doesn’t see the need declining as the fund grows.
“A lot of it is helping veterans who truly don’t have any other avenues for assistance,” he said.
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Last year, the trust approved 507 requests for assistance for a total of nearly $596,000, according to the annual report.
Over 15 years, there have been changes in the types of assistance veterans have sought from the fund. Recently, he said, there’s been an uptick in applications for assistance paying for vehicle repairs.
“A big chunk goes for emergency vehicle repairs,” he said, mostly for veterans whose vehicles break down and they need a way to get to work to stay employed. In 2017, 118 vehicle repair requests for slightly more than $158,000 were approved.
The number of applications has increased as veterans and veterans’ affairs officers have become more familiar with the trust, Lukan said. The application process starts at the county level.
“Over the past few years, county veterans’ officers have been very helpful spreading the word,” Lukan said.
That’s helpful, he said, especially for older veterans who might not be internet savvy.
“And we’ve had more veterans stepping forward and asking for assistance,” Lukan added. For example, this year, “with some of storms we’ve had, we have approved some emergency housing repairs.”
Housing repair assistance for 67 veterans amounted to almost $155,000 in 2017, and dental assistance for 64 veterans accounted for about $115,000.
Another “big chunk” goes to pay for honor guards at graveside services for veterans, he said.
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Today, about 8 percent of Iowans are veterans. Many of them are elderly. Lukan noted that the average age of Vietnam era veterans now is about 70. As they age, their costs tend to go up.
Many veterans decline any assistance until they need it. Lukan encouraged them to establish a relationship with Veterans Affairs on the state and federal levels before they need assistance.
“Too often, we hear from people who say their grandfather or uncle is in the hospital or a shelter and needs help, but they don’t have their (military) record and the documentation needed to get help,” Lukan said.
Benefits available to veterans and spouses include:
• Travel: For wounded veterans directly related to follow-up medical care.
• Unemployment Assistance: Must have a service connection causing unemployment. $3,000 in a 12-month period, with a lifetime maximum of $6,000.
• Job Training or Education Assistance: Lifetime maximum of $3,000.
• Individual or Family Counseling: Up to $5,000 in a 12-month period.
• Dental: Up to $2,500 in a 12-month period.
• Audiology: Up to $1,500 per ear in a 12-month period.
• Emergency Housing Repairs: Up to $3,000 in a 12-month period.
• Emergency Vehicle Repairs: Up to $2,500 in a 12-month period.
• Emergency Room: Lifetime maximum of $5,000.
• Durable Medical Equipment: Lifetime maximum of $2,500.
To apply, visit https://va.iowa.gov/media/4ef36ecd-b984-436f-8e93-e4932f4469c5.
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