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Veteran assistance changes form; loans replaced with grave marker assistance

by Joe Sneve, CNS

The South Dakota legislature and Gov. M. Michael Rounds have decided to repeal the emergency veterans' loan program to free up money from the veterans affairs special revenue fund for other veteran programs.

Rounds signed House Bill 1270 on March 10 to end the loan program which provides veterans and their families with small loans to assist in economic emergencies.

On March 3, sponsor of the bill, Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, told fellow senators that ending the loan program will free up approximately $120,000 for higher priority programs that deal with veterans, such as the grave stone marker program and a salary increase for veteran's service officers.

Andy Gerlach with the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs told the Senate Appropriations Committee March 2 that the loan program was progressively decreasing in value. "Over half of (the loan recipients) end up not paying (the loan) back," he said. Fifty-two percent of the loans end up defaulting, Gerlach said.

Sen. Jeffrey Haverly, R-Rapid City, said that the fund cannot sustain itself at that rate, and the grave stone marker program would be a better allocation of some of the remaining funds. "It's an excellent benefit, especially when considering South Dakota does not have a state veterans' cemetery," he said.

The measure, which was approved by the Senate, 21-13, and the House of Representatives, 55-14, will take effect July 1.