Veterans’ issues being discussed at Statehouse to provide help, treatment

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Many veterans come back from war with wounds that aren’t just physical, and now state lawmakers are trying to help our veterans overcome their emotional wounds as well.

“When they come back, you think everything’s fine (but) now they’re fighting another battle, the battle for their own minds,” said Rick Baum, whose son Ben died from a heart attack four years after coming home from Iraq. Ben also suffered from the emotional struggles of PTSD.

“He wanted people to think he was okay, but the invisible wound was taking its toll every day,” said Baum.

“The federal government isn’t doing what it needs to do for veterans, so being the patriotic state we are, I believe there’s more we can do as a state,” said state senator Jim Banks, R-Columbia City.

Banks is the author of Senate Bill 180, which would establish a veterans’ treatment study program. Their goal is to get veterans off of potentially risky medication and into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber instead.

“We need to do everything possible to try to heal our veterans,” said Kent Morgan, the state legislative chairman for Disabled American Veterans. “Last year we lost about 120 Hoosier veterans who committed suicide, and that pains me a lot.”

“We have (many) veterans who had the gun in their mouth,” said retired Brigadier General Jim Bauerle. “They were ready to pull the trigger, were talked out of it, and went to receive oxygen treatment and (now) they’re back in society.”

“We as a society owe them at least this type of treatment,” said State Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, the House sponsor of SB 180.

“We know its prevalent,” said Banks. “We know that a number of vets never receive treatment they need. Ultimately that’s what leads to the high suicide rate among veterans, and that’s why we’re trying to do something about it here at the Statehouse.”

Banks’ bill passed the Senate, but has yet to be heard in committee in the House, where lawmakers are hoping to make changes that would give some veterans immediate help and treatment, instead of creating a study program.

Meantime, other bills aimed at helping veterans are also moving through the Statehouse, including a bill that would provide more help through the military family relief bund. That bill was advanced by a House committee Tuesday, and is now on its way to the House floor.

“The veterans are people we need to help,” said the bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Dick Hamm, R-Richmond. “People are falling on hard times right now.”

The bill would remove a three-year limitation on who can get money from the fund.

“If they’re short with their mortgage this bill will help them, with their light bill, things like that,” said Indiana Veterans Affairs director Jim Brown.

“It’s absolutely a no-brainer,” said state Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg. “The only concern any of us had was to make sure there’d be money there for the long haul.”

Money from veteran and military-themed license plates helps pay for the fund.

Another bill moving through the General Assembly would establish a women veterans’ coordinator. That bill will be heard by a House committee next Tuesday.