COLUMBUS -- Nelson Weirick did stints in the U.S. Navy and the National Guard from the mid-1970s through 1999, when he retired from the service.
His time included the Gulf War years in the early 1990s, and, as such, he was among the thousands of Ohio military men and women who were eligible for voter-approved bonuses.
It wasn't a lot of money -- $700 or $800, as he recalled.
"It's not making or breaking anybody," said Weirick, who today heads the Wayne County Veterans Service Commission. But, he added, "It's a nice thank you."
Jeff Shull, a retired Navy chief petty officer who works alongside Weirick at the Wayne County vets services office, received a comparable check for his Gulf War service. It might have gone toward the purchase of a car for his daughter, he said. For some other vets, he said, the bonuses can help as they enroll in higher ed programs and make the transition from active service to civilian lives.
"Even $400 to $500 would make an impact on assisting them getting set up with college," Shull said, adding, "I would imagine that would be a very pleasant surprise, and it would definitely help you out."
That was part of the point behind the veterans bonus program when it was OK'd by voters nearly eight years ago.
Since the initial checks were cut in fiscal 2010, 91,700-plus veterans have received bonus payments totaling nearly $74.8 million.
"It's a show of support and a show of respect from the taxpayers and the Legislature ," said retired Army Col. Chip Tansill, who heads the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. "It's really not a great deal of money, but it's nice that our Legislature passed this and that the taxpayers voted for it. It makes the military people feel like we're paying attention and we know that they may need some help."
The resolution placing the bonus issue on the ballot was co-sponsored by then-Sens. Tim Grendell, a Republican, and Jason Wilson, a Democrat.
Wilson, who now serves as director of the Governor's Office of Appalachia, said the goal was to recognize and support Ohio's military men and women in similar fashion to past wars. Cash bonuses were approved by voters and paid to veterans of other wars and conflicts, dating back to the Civil War, though the deadline for those payments has long since passed.
"In my mind, it's what we should do as citizens," Wilson said. "We should support the people who go out and defend our country and go to foreign lands, in some cases to give their lives."
In November 2009, voters signed off on a constitutional amendment allowing the state to borrow up to $200 million to pay cash bonuses to Ohio military men and women who served at least 90 days of active duty in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq in current conflicts in those areas, plus those involved in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s.
Eligible veterans are being paid $100 for each month, up to $1,000, for time served in those areas or $50 a month, up to $500, for those serving in other locations at the time, with a $1,500 cap for combined service. Families of veterans who died in action are eligible for an additional $5,000 death benefit.
The deadline for many Ohio veterans has passed for the current bonuses. Persian Gulf War-era veterans had to apply for by the end of 2013, while those who served during the most recent Iraqi conflict (between March 19, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2011) had to submit applications before the end of 2014.
That leaves military men and women serving during the ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan still eligible, through whenever the president orders U.S. involvement in that region is complete.
Since the program launched in 2010, Franklin County has had the highest number of claims, with 7,927 claims, totaling more than $6.2 million, according to the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.
Cuyahoga County was second with 5,890 bonuses totaling nearly $4.4 million, followed by Montgomery (4,433 bonuses totaling nearly $3.2 million) and Hamilton (3,575 bonuses totaling nearly $2.9 million).
A total of 703 claims were made by military men and women in Wayne County, with bonuses totaling nearly $524,000. Another 544 were submitted in Ashland County, totaling nearly $433,000, while 136 were submitted in Holmes County, totaling nearly $103,000, according to the state agency.
The number of claims statewide has mostly declined, year over year, since the program started, with a high of 36,747 claims in fiscal 2010-11. There was a bump in the numbers in 2014, with military men and women submitting applications before the cutoff dates for the Persian Gulf and Iraqi eras. During the last fiscal year, 854 Ohioans submitted claims.
Still, Tansill said he runs into veterans who don't know about the bonuses.
"We have about 10,000 Ohioans coming back every year from the military," he said. "When there's that many people coming back and they're going to all parts of this great state, they may be in an [area] that just hasn't heard about it."
He added, "We tout it as much as possible. We talk about it everywhere we go."
Jared Shank, director of military and apprenticeship initiatives and special projects at the Ohio Department of Higher Education, is among the veterans who have already received their payments.
He was paid the maximum $1,500 for his service in the U.S. Army from 2002-06. The west-central Ohio native applied shortly after the program launched and around the same time that he had drained his savings to purchase a house.
"I really didn't have anything in my bank account," he said. "The bonus was a nice way to create a savings. "
Later on, part of those funds went to purchase an engagement ring.
"I think it's a decent amount of money for Ohio just to basically say thanks [to those serving in the military]," he said.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.