Hoosier veterans disagree over Military Family Relief Fund bill

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INDIANAPOLIS––Should more Hoosier veterans get access to the Indiana military family relief fund? Many are at odds over whether veterans who were not honorably discharged should get the money.

Some are also worried about using the fund for other expenses too.

“This bill is about growth,” explained Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs Director Dennis Wimer. “It’s about being able to manage that growth.”

Those in favor of SB316 said it takes money to make money and that is why they are in support of IDVA using 15% of the Indiana Military Family Relief Fund to pay off administrative costs and expand the program.

They see it as an opportunity to reach more veterans but those against it see it as a more than $270,000 budget cut that would have gone to veterans in need. Those opposed argue money for administrative costs could be found elsewhere.

“Yes, it’s possible to find it somewhere else in the budget but you and I both know in a budget year, tax dollars can only go so far,” responded Kevin Coley, State Officer of the Disabled American Veterans Department of Indiana.

The fund comes from donations and specialty license plates. It’s designed to help honorably discharged Hoosier veterans but now lawmakers are considering expanding the list.

“The commission will determine which ones will meet the qualification and the commission has no intent of having violent offenders, those type of people to be able to get a benefit,” said Coley.

It’s designed for those who may have developed mental health or substance abuse issues in the military and were not honorably discharged as a result.

Not everyone agrees this should be opened up to them.

“It means a lot to veterans across this state that we were able to wear that uniform and maintain those standards,” said Lisa Wilken, Chair of the AMVETS National Women Veterans Committee. “So, I would ask this committee to not lower the standards in Indiana and let’s work on other avenues of helping those veterans.”

The Indiana Department of Veterans affairs said this fund isn’t just about giving 2,500 to those who qualify.

“It is actually much more about what we can do for that veteran and how we understand their needs and how we connect them with services,” said Wimer.

The department believes this legislation would help accomplish that.

The Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana is opposed to both versions. This letter to Governor Eric Holcomb explains the issues this coalition has with the bill in detail.

There is a similar bill in the House, HB1264.

On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs and The Military Committee heard hours of testimony but ultimately decided to vote on the matter on another day.

We will continue following this legislation as it moves through the process.

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