The applications of three McPherson County veterans who applied to fly to Washington, D.C., have been resurrected from the rubble of Central Prairie Honor Flights.
Central Prairie was an organization based out of Great Bend that helped send veterans to the East Coast to see the World War II Memorial. Central Prairie was the largest trip organizer in Kansas, raising nearly $1.2 million for trips between 2008 and 2012.
Flights were halted this year after more than $100,000 in funds went missing from the group's account. Its program director, LaVeta Miller, was charged in October with two counts of theft by deception. She is free on bail and made her first court appearance in November, according to the Associated Press.
Files from the organization were transferred to Hutchinson-based Kansas Honor Flight, but president Mike VanCampen said much was disorganized. In some cases, only names were listed, forcing them to do research to locate individuals. Once identified, some have still been able to go, while others are ill or deceased. A handful are still unknown.
The three from McPherson who have been identified are physically able to make the trip, have been contacted and are tentatively scheduled to fly this summer, according to VanCampen. Although asked to reapply to Kansas Honor Flight, their original application date will be used, as that determines the order of flights.
“We have been involved with this for a number of years and understand what it means for the veterans and their families to make this trip,” he said. “It's really heartening when you call them and they say, 'Oh, I thought you'd never call.'”
VanCampen does not think any applicants from McPherson County remain in the “unknown” pile. If a veteran has filled out an application and is unsure of its status, however, VanCampen encourages them to call Kansas Honor Flight at 620-546-2400 or 620-665-3180.
Over two-dozen area veterans have flown with Central Prairie over the past several years. Three McPherson residents flew with Kansas Honor Flight this year.
VanCampen also said it's possible money raised in McPherson County could be among the $100,000 lost.
Money raised for veterans comes from a number of sources. Local events include tournaments, lemonade stands and donated soda cans. Whether or not local money was among the funds lost is uncertain.
“Somewhere, there's allegedly $100,000,” VanCampen said.
Local liaisons Angel Andrewson, fundraiser for vets in the Lindsborg area, and Judy Casey, organizer for the remainder of McPherson County, said they do not know for sure if local money was lost, but funds raised were understood to be used for their own area, and all who were on their lists have flown.
“I'm still in shock,” Andrewson said of the situation. “It really makes me sad to think anyone could take that money away from our veterans after all they've done for us.”
Page 2 of 2 - Despite the negative publicity surrounding the flights, Andrewson said Lindsborg donors are still giving.
“They still say they're doing it for the veterans,” she said. “You can't let a program fail because of one bad apple.”
Despite what has happened, Casey said she is excited about Kansas Honor Flight and said they are supportive. Those at Kansas Honor Flight have told her the preventative measures they will use to prevent any more lost funds.
VanCampen said those in charge all have experience in operating a business, and those dealing with money are being kept accountable.
“We are apt and doing what we do,” he said. “We understand spreadsheets and databases and fiscal responsibility. Even though it's a very emotional project, the fact is the organization has to be run in a very business-like manner. That's what we're doing.”
Morris Heitschmidt, a local veteran who flew to Washington, D.C., with Kansas Honor Flight, said the organization did their job well.
“I have nothing but admiration for the new group,” he said. “The people in charge of it now are ideal. They know what they're doing. They took care of every detail.”