The Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana – a group of more than 100 organizations that support those serving in our military, those who have served and their families – requests Gov. Eric Holcomb intervene on behalf of Hoosier veterans and their families to prevent a wrong from happening in the Indiana General Assembly.
The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs is supporting legislation, Senate Bill 316 and House Bill 1264, that has provisions we strongly oppose. Specifically, language in the bill permits the agency to recoup administrative expenses from the Military Family Relief Fund for staff, technology and other administrative items up to 15% of the fund's annual average revenue.
This fund is exclusively used to help honorably discharged Hoosier veterans who meet eligibility requirements established in Indiana Code who are in need. This equates to more than $270,000 that would not be available to assist more than 110 Hoosier veterans.
Veterans Affairs Director Dennis Wimer, at our suggestion, presented a draft of his agency's bill at our Jan. 8 meeting. He indicated the funds were needed because he has been directed by Holcomb to revert 15% of his operating budget.
This directive places Veterans Affairs in a position where it will be required to reduce and limit the support and services to Hoosier veterans. The Military/Veterans Coalition strongly believes that Veterans Affairs services are critical to veterans and in these economic and pandemic times are most needed.
Cutting the agency's budget is the wrong thing to do.
Funding for the Military Family Relief Fund comes from premiums charged for specialty license plates, income tax donations, direct donations, and from Rolling Thunder donations from their specialty plate. We view these as taxpayers' donations.
Other organizations have vanity plates and to the best of our knowledge do not charge any administrative fee from the premiums charged. Indiana, Purdue and Ball State universities, for example, get revenue from license plates and do not deduct an administrative fee.
SB 316 and HB 1264 also expand the eligibility to receive assistance from the fund. The coalition has been supportive and working toward expanding eligibility to all honorably discharged Hoosier veterans.
However, expansion as proposed in the bills is unacceptable as it diminishes the value of Hoosiers who have served honorably by allowing other than honorable discharges eligibility to the fund with a few exceptions.
Our position is that eligibility should include only honorable discharges and general discharges under honorable conditions.
The 392,388 Indiana veterans contribute significantly to the Indiana economy, as reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2019, benefits paid or services provided to Hoosier veterans were more than $3.2 billion. This money came into the state in 2020 even though the state was hunkered down.
We appreciate the executive orders the governor issued to help veterans in need during the pandemic.
However, moving forward, requiring Veterans Affairs to revert appropriated funds and using veteran donations is not making Indiana a supportive state for veterans to work and live. Allowing disgraced service members to receive state benefits when the federal government denies them is unacceptable in our view.
We ask that Holcomb direct and support the agency to increase its 2021 budget request and reverse the 2020 fund reversion to ensure services support the needs of our Hoosier veterans and we ask that he direct that Hoosiers who served honorably be valued appropriately.
Ron Martin, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is president of the Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana.