Lawmakers overwhelmingly support changes to military fund

Sen. Allen Paul (R-Richmond)

13 Investigates gets legislative action.

It's good news for struggling veterans and Indiana motorists who bought "Support Our Troops" license plates. Indiana lawmakers voted hands down to a new law that would make millions of dollars available to military families in need. All that's missing now is the governor's signature.

It doesn't happen often.

From committee to Senate and House votes, Indiana lawmakers made good on a promise to fix the Military Family Relief Fund - without a single vote against it.

"I've been here 30 years and nothing like that has ever happened," said Senator Allen E. Paul (R-Richmond) who sponsored Senate Bill 352.

It means the millions of dollars 13 Investigates discovered last July sitting in a bank account from the sale of military license plates will now be open to struggling veterans who need help, no matter when they came home from deployment.

"There's a little over $8 million dollars in the fund, so it's a lot of money," Sen. Paul told 13 Investigates.

Beginning July 1, 2014, Indiana veterans will no longer have just three years to apply for the money.

13 Investigates found hundreds of veterans like Willie Ray Kimball were turned away when he needed help most. The young father and his family were being evicted just months after his three-year eligibility expired.

His story got lawmakers attention.

Under the new law, as long as a veteran can show a need for housing, utilities, education or employment they're eligible for assistance.

"I think it's incredible that they were able to do that. I think it's going to help a lot of people," Kimball said from his Wolcotville home in northern Indiana. "I would ask them why it took them so long for this change in the first place?"

Veterans like Kimball, who re-apply this July would also get priority consideration.

"It's about time. That's the way it should be. Those that either have not ever applied or the ones that were denied should be first priority," said Anita Caincross, who knows what it's like to be in need. Her husband Sgt. Ken Caincross has served three tours of duty and is now fighting for disability.

In January 2007, fire destroyed the Caincross residence in Bloomington. The family has struggled ever since.

"Yeah, we're struggling, but we're getting by. Yeah, we're having to rob Peter to pay Paul sometimes," she added.

Yet the couple considers themselves lucky. They received assistance from the fund and credit it to their survival.

Still they worry about others.

"I just hope it's not too late, because there are a lot of soldiers out there that need help and either didn't know where to go to ask for the help or got denied," said Master Sgt. Ken Caincross.

13 Investigates discovered lawmakers knew there was a problem with the law last year, but failed to fix it. Internal documents revealed the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs was stockpiling the money and trying to grow the fund to $40 million. Of the $7 million raised, the agency gave out just $1 million.

"We're just waiting on the governor to sign it, he's made it part of his package. And I want to thank you for your work on it, also," Sen. Paul said to 13 Investigates. "I think people began to realize that it was there and it's there for them to use."

The Veterans Affairs Commission would oversee the fund and how the money is distributed. Fourteen lawmakers were listed as co-sponsors. In fact, Sen. Paul says he could have gotten the entire Senate to support the bill if he had asked.

It takes effect July 1 pending the governor's signature.