American Legion offers help for vets after 13 Investigates report

$7 million from the sale of specialty license plates isn't going to the veterans that are supposed to benefit.

The commander of the Indiana American Legion is offering help to veterans across the state.

The American Legion says it's concerned that servicemen and women aren't getting more help from a $7 million fund exposed by 13 Investigates.

Insiders say it's politics locking some veterans out of much needed help.

Army. Navy. Air Force. Marines.

The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs under former Governor Mitch Daniels' administration banked millions from license plate sales. $15-$20 from each plate went directly to the DVA Military Family Relief Fund, a fund set up by law to help struggling veterans returning home from war and active duty.

But 13 Investigates discovered 20 percent of veterans who applied were turned away, refused help, while the DVA sits on millions - $7 million at last count.

"It's just not right. It's ridiculous," said Anita Caincross.

"Some of the soldiers come back and they don't have a job anymore," added Master Sgt. Ken Caincross, Anita's husband.

The couple knows what it's like to be in need. Their family home was destroyed by fire while Ken was in Iraq. They are among the 355 families the DVA did help.

Over the last six years, the agency paid out just over a million dollars. But 94 other families that came forward didn't get a dime.

"It's one of the easiest ways to make money for veterans, yet they're not getting the money," questioned 13 Investigates.

"I understand," said Russ Eaglin, the Deputy Director of Indiana's Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those findings are now sparking an outcry.

Commander Richard "Dick" Jewell at the Indiana American Legion put out a release, saying:

"As veterans, last night's story on WTHR-13 about Indiana's Military Family Relief Fund causes us to be concerned about the program."

"It is a concern, because we believe that maybe we need to relax some of the rules," Jewell told 13 Investigates. He is now speaking out about the politics keeping that $7 million dollars locked away from those who need it most.

Under Indiana law, veterans can only apply for the funds within a three-year window after deployment or active duty status. That means veterans who came home in 2009 are already out of luck.

Legislation that could have changed that this year died in committee without a hearing.

"I hate to see things like that to get tied up because one party was first to the table with the legislation," said Jewell.

Jewell also fought against a decision to take $180,000 from the family relief fund to pay for training for county veteran workers.

"We testified in the Statehouse earlier this year against the use of that fund for anything other than its intended purpose," Jewell explained.

Despite the missteps at the Statehouse, Jewell believes the new administration will now work to make the fund more accessible. The first step is getting the word out about the $7 million.

Jewell says in the meantime, veterans in need should reach out to the American Legion and other organizations for help. The American Legion offers a Temporary Financial Assistance Fund for families. The key requirement is that the requesting family have at least one minor child in the home.

That fund provides grants for housing, food, utilities and clothing. Medical grants are also available but require physician statements.

Contact the American Legion about assistance at:

The American Legion
National Commission on Children and Youth
P.O. Box 1055
Indianapolis, IN 46206
(317) 630-1300