Indiana officials, nonprofits work to connect veterans with benefits

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – State and federal officials are working to make more veterans aware of the benefits they’re eligible to receive.

Sen. Mike Braun’s office teamed up with agencies and nonprofits for an event Wednesday in downtown Indianapolis to connect veterans with those benefits.

Many veterans have already applied for benefits through the Veterans Affairs system. Those include James Wilkinson, an Air Force veteran from Shelbyville, who applied for additional assistance earlier this year to cover his hearing needs.

“We were around so many noises like firing weapons,” he said. “I was around jet engines.”

Still, officials say many veterans don’t know about the programs or that they may be eligible.

According to a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, only about half of the state’s 350,000 veterans are receiving benefits from the government.

Marine veteran James Logan of Indianapolis attended the event to learn more and now plans to apply.

“Things change from time to time, so it’s good to get new information,” Logan said.

Those changes have ramped up in recent years, with more veterans becoming eligible for benefits.

Just a few months ago, the federal VA added three medical conditions of some veterans as qualifications for benefits.

Dennis Wimer, director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, said that’s why veterans should look into these programs, even if they were denied in the past or are unsure if they qualify.

“I’m a very good example,” Wimer said. “I waited 20 years to go get my federal benefits.”

Benefits range from health insurance and monthly stipends to cover health care costs to home loans and college tuition assistance for your kids.

Right now, state officials are working to continue raising awareness about the benefits available through public campaigns and events like the one held Wednesday, Wimer explained.

Some nonprofits are also helping with the effort.

“These can be life-changing benefits to the veteran,” said Jill Fewell, executive director of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans. “And we’re trying to find these veterans.”

“The benefits can be significant,” Wimer said. “Not everybody is eligible for all of those, but it’s very important to make that first step.”

Families of fallen soldiers or veterans may also be eligible for some programs, Wimer added.

To find out if you qualify for benefits, it’s best to start by contacting your County Veterans Service Officer, Wimer said. To find the officer near you, click here.

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