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Hamilton County has filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs alleging hundreds of veterans were denied medical services for five years due to mismanagement and they have asked a judge to determine that the VA is responsible for overseeing the District officials should be responsible.
The Central Indiana district, which is home to more than 13,300 veterans, has accused IDVA Director Dennis Wimer and his department of failing to meet their statutory duties in handling a series of issues involving former Hamilton County Veterans Service Officer Lynn Epperson from 2014 to 2019 to have.
The lawsuit focuses on whether the state or county has jurisdiction over the VSO in Hamilton County.
“The key to understanding the issue here, Indiana law requires the County VSO to act under the supervision and rules of the Indiana Department of Veteran Affairs. IC § 10-17-1-2(a),” the complaint reads. “Indiana law further provides that where, as here, the VSO’s remuneration and expenses are paid from county funds, the VSO shall operate under the supervision of the State Department’s director of Veterans Affairs. IC § 10-17-1-9(c)(3).
“Indiana law also clearly states that ‘[a] Rule conflicts with Section (c) or (d). Empty.’ IC § 10-17-1-9(e). … Unfortunately, the department and director failed to oversee the former VSO and have refused to fully oversee and oversee the current county VSO.”
In 2014, Hamilton County Commissioners hired Epperson as VSO. Due to ongoing performance issues, the county ended her appointment in December 2019.
After Epperson’s removal, the county claims it found that she failed to file timely claims for monthly disability benefits — which ranged from $140 to $4,200 a month — for many veterans. As a result, benefits, including retroactive benefits, were lost for hundreds of veterans.
The complaint alleges that Epperson “multiple times” failed to respond to files requiring urgent attention, lied to employees about the status of claims, and often waited months before pursuing requests for medical records, among other things.
“Concerned about Epperson’s lack of diligence in handling claims, the county decided to review all open files from August 2018 through July 2019 to determine if all tasks were completed,” the complaint reads. “The county has identified 508 open files. As of September 2019, it had reviewed 218 files. Of these, 180 claims were either incorrectly filed or not filed at all. This was a serious mistake by Epperson that put hundreds of veterans at risk of losing their benefits.
“…Between July 2, 2020 and November 17, 2020, the county reviewed over 6,000 files in the office,” it continues. “The district found over 1,000 files containing forms used by the USDVA and sent them to this agency. From these files, it remains to be seen how many veterans were affected by Epperson’s misconduct.”
In addition, the complaint said the county has repeatedly asked the state for assistance and cooperation to correct Epperson’s mistakes and prevent future problems, with little success.
“The director failed to oversee Epperson, failed to review or monitor the quality of her work for five years, and neither disciplined nor fired her,” the complaint reads. “This failure was a violation of the director’s duty to oversee Epperson, and the county estimates that hundreds of veterans have lost thousands of dollars as a result of Epperson’s actions and omissions and the department’s failure to perform their statutory duties to adequately oversee Epperson.” fulfill, have lost.”
The county is seeking a declaratory judgment from the Marion Superior Court finding that Wimer and the IDVA failed in their duty to oversee the former VSO and that Indiana law requires that the director be responsible for overseeing and overseeing the performance of the VSO of the district is responsible.
In a statement released to the media last week, Wimer said his department disputes the claims and that “the statue cited in the lawsuit has never been interpreted in a way Hamilton County prefers.”
“Counties, not the state, have responsibility for hiring, monitoring, evaluating, increasing salaries and, if necessary, firing employees who work in their county veteran offices,” Wimer said. “Hamilton County discovered problems three years ago, and IDVA went out of its way to help.”
Attorneys Blake J. Burgan, Nadine E. McSpadden and Kristine A. Gordon of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP filed the lawsuit on Oct. 26 on behalf of the plaintiffs.
The case is Hamilton County, Indiana v. Dennis Wimer, in his official capacity as director of the Indiana State Department of Veterans Affairs49D07-2210-PL-037195.