13 Investigates report leads to changes in Indiana's Military Relief Fund
In a grand salute to Indiana war heroes, Governor Mike Pence signed his first piece of legislation for the 2014 session on Thursday.
Senate Bill 352 is aimed at helping struggling veterans and is the result of a 13 Investigates report that found soldiers being turned away from help.
Now the investigation comes full circle, with a new law and a renewed commitment to Hoosier veterans.
In the shadow of Indiana's most prominent tribute to war heroes, Gov. Pence addressed a full house of veterans at the Indiana War Memorial.
"We'll never be able to fully repay the debt that we owe to those that put on the uniform. But today, we've taken a small step to make sure that we're able to assist families," he said.
Flanked by children of Indiana Guardsmen and women, Pence signed on to expand relief for struggling military families.
"I'm deeply humbled and deeply honored to have been able to sign it into law today," he told 13 Investigates.
It's his first piece of legislation for 2014.
"We believe we're going to be better situated to come alongside families that are in distress financially or struggling. And that's exactly what Hoosiers who participated in this program want to see us do," he explained.
"To have the first bill being signed I think it's kind of, [from a] guy that wears a uniform, kind of happy it's all about taking care of those who serve," chimed in Major General R. Martin Umbarger, the Adjutant General of the Indiana National Guard.
The governor's signature means no time limit for post 9/11 veterans to apply to the $8 million Military Family Relief Fund for help with housing, food, medical expenses or transportation.
The $8 million comes from money raised through the sale of "support our troops" and other military license plates.
Last July, 13 Investigates discovered the state sitting on millions while turning away veterans in need like Willie Ray Kimball because of a restrictive three-year eligibility period.
What 13 Investigates revealed prompted unanimous support from Indiana lawmakers, starting with the bill's sponsor Senator Allen Paul, (R) Richmond. Sen. Paul made the signing of Senate Bill 352 his last order of business before leaving the Senate.
"Again I have to thank you for bringing it forward. Our commission was studying it, but that was kind of the 'kick plate' that moved everything forward and I want to thank your station," Paul said crediting WTHR.
The new law could impact as many as 26,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those previously denied help can reapply and get first consideration.
"I really commend them for what they have done, made it right for our veterans," said Ed Trice, the Commander of the Indiana American Legion.
"We stand with those who served and we stand with their families," promised Gov. Pence.
It's a renewed commitment to veterans, one Pence acknowledged began with a 13 Investigates report and ended with a personal exchange with 13 Investigates reporter Sandra Chapman.
"Governor to citizen," Pence said to Chapman. "Thanks for your leadership on this...Well done."
Veterans groups are now getting the word out about the $8 million fund.
Yearly limits will be set on how much to pay out each year, but it should be more than what we've seen in the past.
The fund on average generates about a million dollars a year. But over six years, the state paid out just one million.
The new law takes effect July 1st.