INDIANAPOLIS — A state House committee is expected to vote Tuesday on a controversial bill aimed at how to best help veterans in need.
The updated version of Senate Bill 316 would allow the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs to use up to 10% of the Military Family Relief Fund, generated from military license plate sales, and use the money for marketing and promotion of the fund.
The latest version of the bill also specifies that IDVA may not use any of the amount for administrative costs, including payroll or any other overhead expenses.
Hoosier veterans in need of help with food, housing, utilities, medical services and transportation can turn to IDVA’s Military Family Relief Fund — money generated from the sale of military license plates like Army, Navy, Marines and Support Our Troops.
Veterans have been at odds over certain provisions of Senate Bill 316, especially using license plate revenue to promote a state benefit.
“When people are making this donation, they're thinking the money is going to a veteran,” said Jay Kendall, a veteran service officer in Miami County, and also a member Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission. “Outreach is important, but I want to see the system work. We need to get the counties more involved, and you know that's a county thing. Getting an outreach person in downtown Indianapolis isn't going to fix that."
Kendall also criticized that some veterans who were not honorably discharged would be entitled to receive benefits.
Kendall said county veteran service officers like himself can help veterans upgrade their discharge status.
“That’s more important in the long run than just this benefit,” Kendall said. “Trying to fix it with a band-aid and just get part of it done is not what I want to see happen. I want the veterans to come in and see us, because we are very successful at upgrading.”
The “Big Four,” which includes the VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Indiana National Guard, supports Senate Bill 316.
"I don't think there's a big deal using some of the revenue, because the revenue is available,” said Richard Leirer, VFW Junior Vice Commander Department of Indiana. “There's never going to be a veteran not getting the help he needs because of the 10% being used to reach more veterans. It's not like we are taking 10% just to use on whatever."
Leirer pointed out the bill does not allow veterans who were dishonorably discharged, or court-martialed to receive the Military Family Relief Fund benefits, including those who committed sexual or violent offenses.
“Most of those guys served honorably, probably for a good portion of their time in the military and made a mistake toward the end and got put out because of the strictness of the military,” Leirer said. “People were put out in the 80s and 90s from everything from LGBTQ, to having problems with PTSD. They’re still veterans. If they’re in need, we should help them. This is all about getting aid to veterans that really need the help.”
The House Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee will hear the bill at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Numerous veterans groups are expected to testify including the National Guard Association of Indiana.
"The National Guard Association of Indiana is in support of SB 316 as it moves to the House,” said Teresa Mankin, executive director. “This bill offers several provisions that open up the eligibility for our National Guard soldiers to the Military Family Relief Fund. This year has been hard and I am sure there Guardsmen and veterans that could use assistance. Removing those barriers makes it easier to get funds into the hands of service members who need it."
James L. Bauerle, BG, USA (ret.), VP and legislative director of The Military/Veterans Coalition of Indiana, issued the following statement:
Senate Bill 316 is currently moving through the Indiana General Assembly and ALL veterans should know about this. The Military / Veterans Coalition of Indiana has worked closely with Director Wimer of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (idva) and provided most of the input to this agency bill. We recommend the expansion of eligibility, elimination of the “in time of war” restrictions, the “service connected” restrictions, and expansion to include veterans who have received General Discharges under honorable conditions.
We oppose 2 provisions in this bill. First we oppose the expansion to include any individual who has “bad paper”.
Director Wimer pointed out in his testimony to the Veterans Affairs Committee he wants to reach individuals with “bad paper” so he can help them get help and improve their character of discharge. We think IDVA should help the needy among the 392,388 veterans who have “honorable character”. We recommend moving slowly and give expansion of the areas we support now and consider expansion after IDVA has handled this “honorable veteran” expansion.
The American Legion, VFW, and DAV all support this expansion and testified to allow those with “other than honorable” paper to receive money from The Military Family Relief Fund yet they do NOT allow these same veterans to join their organizations. Shouldn’t they allow them to join their organization if they support IDVA increasing inclusion for this group?
The second provision of this bill we oppose is the use of “up to 15%” of the fund for administrative costs.
Director Wimer indicated he intends only to consider the receipts from veteran license plates. The MFRF received approximately $1.8 MILLION annually-- IDVA could get up to $270,000 annually to administer this fund! Director Wimer testified that he intends to spend money to “reach more veterans”. This infers advertizing, marketing, to get more people to purchase plates and spend more by insuring more veterans know about the fund so the needy veteran can apply.
We believe that more Hoosiers purchasing plates included in the Military Family Relief Fund is unlikely or a very modest increase at best. There may even be a backlash when people find out they are funding IDVA Agency and NOT the needy veteran! Some of the VSO’s who testified in favor of this provision have their own plate and receive money from the General Assembly on top of that—should their plates be added to the MFRF as “their” veterans get helped today!
Advertizing and marketing of the fund is a positive effort and using money from the MFRF is the wrong way to go about this. The Coalition fought to have changes made to the BMV driving license process to enable IDVA and county veteran service officers to learn who our veterans are and where they live. Unfortunately Indiana doesn’t know who the 392,388 veterans in Indiana are. The BMV has yet to complete this task as directed by the Indiana General Assembly and nothing has been done by the General Assembly to follow up. IDVA could contact these veterans and promote the veteran license plates and the availability of grants from the Military Family Relief Fund.
The Governor is a veteran—if marketing is needed – I’m sure he would promote the fund and its use. The state (and IDVA) should have public service announcements about the fund. Press conferences should be held and press releases provided periodically promoting the fund and the success stories of those receiving money from the fund. The IDVA currently has Sarah Holsapple of Holsapple Communications as their Public Relations Company—surly she could support IDVA within their current budget as she is doing now.
In closing, The Military / Veterans Coalition urge amending SB316 by eliminating the “administrative expense” and the inclusion of individuals who have received anything other than “honorable” character of discharge.