Government may have been paying out millions of dollars over the past decade in veterans’ stipends without verifying that the recipients ever served in the armed forces anywhere in the world.
More than $1 million was allocated in the last government budget for stipends for ex-servicemen, with government officials indicating that 126 people currently receive the $550-a-month payment.
Those veterans’ ex gratia benefits should be extended only to people who served during World War I or World War II or who featured on a pre-existing list, according to a 1995 government memo outlining eligibility criteria.
The memo indicates the benefit is intended for those who served in the “armed forces of a country” during the two world wars. World War II ended 72 years ago. The last veteran of World War I died in February 2012.
The memo adds that “all persons on the initial list approved by the executive committee should be considered eligible.”
It is not clear how this initial list was formulated.
The Cayman Islands Veterans Association, which has reviewed it, says there is no supporting evidence to show that those on the list ever served in the armed forces of any country.
It believes there are only a handful of people still living who would qualify for the payment through service in either of the two world wars. The association has been trying for more than two years to get clarity from government on who is receiving the funding and on what basis.
They believe some seamen may have been erroneously added to the list at some time in the distant past and continue to be mis-categorized as veterans today.
Earlier this year, officials from the association, which has 50 members who served in armed forces all over the world but only two who receive the stipend, were granted access to records in an effort to “scrub” the list.
“The time frame is very definitive and excludes the bulk of our members,” said Andrew McLaughlin, the acting president of the organization.
“We got a look at some of the names and we just can’t explain that number. We saw the list and we started reviewing the documents. In most cases, there was simply no documentation to prove any type of military service.”
Based on the limited and incomplete information provided, he said, the association was unable to endorse the list, as requested.
He said a further meeting has been requested where officials said they would seek to provide more documentation, but that meeting has not yet taken place.
He added, “The simple fact is that all military members, current or past, should be able to present some form of documentation proving their service.”
Mr. McLaughlin, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said the association was not objecting to anyone who needs government support receiving financial aid, but it is disrespectful to actual war veterans to label such payments as a stipend for servicemen or veterans.
“There is nobody I know of who served in the armed forces that feels they should be on that list based on the legal definition of a veteran, but they would certainly like to know that the people getting it did actually earn it.”
He said the association provides support, through its own efforts, for many elderly veterans and their widows, who are not entitled to and do not receive the stipend
“It hampers our fundraising efforts because people believe government is already giving them money.”
He said the association has been seeking clarity on the stipend issue for several years.
“This issue of the ex-serviceman’s stipend is a long-standing mystery, and one that has perplexed the Cayman Islands Veterans Association for some time. There are many myths behind how the list was formed and maintained over the years, but little facts remain,” he said.
A former president of the association, retired U.S. Air Force Captain Dale Banks, first wrote to government highlighting concerns in 2015.
At the time, he said, there were just six World War II veterans that met government’s criteria for the stipend. Two served in the Trinidad Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and four served in the Cayman Islands Home Guard.
The average age of those veterans was 91 years and six months. It is understood that at least some of them have died since Mr. Banks wrote the letter. Mr. Banks, an 80-year-old West Bayer, served in the Vietnam War during a 30-year military career. He does not receive the ex gratia payment because he is not eligible.
He wrote in a May 2015 letter to all legislators that no member of the association who did not meet the criteria of being Caymanian and serving during World War II had ever received the stipend.
Mr. Banks’s inquiries have bounced back and forth between government officials over the past years, with the issue periodically arising in budget debates and legislative committee hearings.
Dorine Whittaker, chief officer in the Ministry of Community Affairs, commented on concerns about the number of supposed veterans on the government rolls during a Public Accounts Committee hearing in August.
She said officials had done “a lot of work,” including sending out forms, known as Veterans Continuation Confirmation Certificates, to those who received the payment seeking verification. She said all but 12 of those forms had been returned, but acknowledged they had not satisfied the concerns of the veterans association.
“We could not get the chairman to sign off,” she said.
“They were turned back in but not stamped by the Veterans Association. They want to go through the files and we are trying to accommodate that with the chairman.”
The 12 who had not returned the forms, she said, would be removed from the list by the end of September.
“If they do respond and are alive still, we will reinstate them,” she added.
She said the process for adding new veterans to the list was cut off in 1997 and she could not clarify how the initial list was formulated.
“I was not in the ministry. There were applications submitted by these ex-servicemen to say that they went,” she added.
Mr. McLaughlin said the association is a self-sustaining charitable organization that depends on the generosity and respect of the people of the Cayman Islands. The association funds services for veterans through its annual poppy appeal and ex-service members’ gala.
“I would like to be clear – CIVA is self-sustaining, and does not receive any ongoing assistance from the Cayman Islands Government,” he said. “Our only aim is to ensure that the persons receiving the ex-serviceman’s stipend are correctly identified and truly qualified to receive this generous benefit. We owe the people of the Cayman Islands and more importantly, our loyal supporters, at least this.”