by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Former Shiawassee County Commissioner Les Schneider again asked the Board of Commissioners during the Wednesday, March 15 Committee of the Whole meeting to look into the county’s Veterans Affairs Committee and his allegations of improper use of funds by the former Veterans Affairs and Services (VA) staff. Newly-elected commissioner Dan McMaster acquiesced to Schneider’s call for an investigation by requesting a review. The review will be conducted by the county’s Health and Human Services Committee, which is comprised of commissioners McMaster, Mike Bruff, and Brandon Marks.
Schneider previously accused the VA department of improperly using Veterans Relief Fund Act 214 resources to pay staff salaries and benefits, totaling more than $250,000 between 2010 and 2014, and he says the board has refused to allow him to present his information.
“There are problems in the VA Committee that can’t be ignored,” Schneider said March 15. “The present committee is not doing everything they could do. The current VA department is working hard to help our veterans, but the committee leaves a lot to be desired.”
Schneider had presented Commissioner McMaster with some of the documentation he has gathered over the past few years prior to the March 15 meeting, which prompted the move to review the department and committee. The rest of the commissioners were also presented with the information before the end of the meeting.
“I think we should investigate the past activities and operations of the VA,” McMaster said in response to Schneider’s pleas. “There are a lot of allegations that have been flying around, and I feel that in the interest of good governance, we need to look into this. I would just feel comfortable if a committee spent 60 days or 90 days figuring out if something’s there. If it’s there, it’s there; if it’s not, it’s not, and we can figure out where to go from there. I think it’s our responsibility.”
Commissioner Jeff Bartz countered by saying, “For the four years I have been here, these allegations have come and come and come. The other side has never presented any proof, and that’s been the problem. If Mr. Schneider does come up with proof, then this board would look at it.”
Included in the documentation Schneider presented to the board on March 15 were two attorney opinions regarding the alleged improper use of funds, as well as a transaction history from 2014 that shows more than $250,000 from the Veterans Relief Fund being transferred into the VA General Fund. While Schneider admits that some Veterans Relief Fund money can be used to pay for emergency services rendered, he believes the lack of precise documentation raises questions.
“The past board refused to allow me to present my information,” Schneider says. “The state attorney general said the matter warranted further investigation due to possible fraud and improper use of funds. The Act 214 money can be used to reimburse for emergency services, but it must be carefully documented, which it was not. I don’t think these expenditures can be justified.”
Shiawassee County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Mike Herendeen noted near the end of the meeting that, according to Act 192, the committee in question “shall appoint a veterans service officer and such other employees necessary to carry out the provisions of this act.” In his professional opinion, the use of funds is justified. Both Schneider and county resident Matthew Shepard thanked the board for ordering the review, with Shepard stating the decision “eases my heart and my mind.”