NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Dozens of people gathered for a 21-gun salute for Veterans Day on Friday outside the Hamilton County Courthouse.
They gathered in the shadow of Hamilton County government buildings that represented frustration for many local veterans from 2014-2019.
Hamilton County is suing the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. County leaders claim the former director didn’t properly manage the county’s veterans services officer, occasionally called the “VSO,” from 2014-2019.
Both parties are arguing over who’s job it was to manage that employee while hundreds of veterans missed out on VA benefits because that employee didn’t do her job.
Veteran Gina Loy, talking about the former director, told I-Team 8, “She never returned calls or emails, so I kind of had to call her out on Facebook and then she eventually emailed me.”
Loy was talking about Lynn Epperson.
The Hamilton County commissioners in 2014 appointed Epperson as the Hamilton County veterans service officer. Her roll was to help veterans file paperwork with the VA so they could receive benefits ranging from $140 to $4,200 a month.
Loy, though, wasn’t the only veteran experiencing issues with Epperson. So did her husband, Rob Loy, who is the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Noblesville.
Rob said, “For like several years, it seemed like it was nonstop. They were coming in, complaining, ‘Nothing’s happening.’ ‘She’s lost my paperwork again.’”
The post commander says the situation got so bad that the VFW took matters into its own hands. “We started diverting them (Hamilton County veterans) to other VSOs, like Tipton, Marion County.”
Rob said many were diverted. “This post alone, I’d say at least 100.”
It’s unclear if Hamilton County veterans can get back pay caused by the lapses in paperwork filing from 2014-2019. Also, it’s unclear how much money was not paid out to the ignored veterans.
In 2019, county leaders fired Epperson. Hamilton County veterans are now being helped by a new county veterans service officer, who was appointed after Epperson was fired.
Hamilton County is suing the director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs because he didn’t do his job to ensure Epperson was doing hers.
Jody Madeira, an Indiana University law professor, looked at the lawsuit and broke down what it’s asking the court to decide. “They’re seeking a declaration that the director must supervise this employee and ensure that the employee is competently performing their position,” Madeira said.
Madeira added, “It appears to me that although the veterans services officer is paid for by county funds, the officer is probably under the supervision of the director.”
The law professor also says the court’s final decision could have legal ramifications in the future because it could determine who would be liable for damages if a veteran decides to sue.
Gina Loy said that the situation today is “much better.
“They immediately, if I email them something or a question, they immediately email me back or they call me.”
I-Team 8 reached out to Epperson by phone and email for a comment about what happened between 2014 and 2019 in her roll as the Hamilton County veterans service officer. She hadn’t replied by Friday night.
Statement from Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs
“IDVA denies the claims made by Hamilton County. The statute cited in the lawsuit has never been interpreted the way Hamilton County prefers. Counties, not the state, have the responsibility for hiring, supervising, evaluating, giving pay raises, and, if needed, firing employees who work in their county veterans offices. Hamilton County discovered problems three years ago, and IDVA went above and beyond to help. IDVA works to support, serve, and advocate for the Indiana veteran community, and it is unfortunate that some veterans’ lives could be adversely affected by the problems that occurred in the veterans office of Hamilton County.”
Dennis Wimer, director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs