Solutions offered for Indiana military relief fund
Indiana lawmakers are promising to make better use of your donations to a military relief fund. They want to get millions of dollars collected from specialty license plate sales into the hands of veterans in need.
13 Investigates uncovered the $7 million relief fund just sitting in a bank account. Now possible fixes are being discussed.
At the Indiana State Fairgrounds, war buddies can't stop talking about State Representative Jim Baird, a Vietnam veteran who manned a big gun in the corner slot of an armed cargo truck as it raced past enemy lines carrying ammo and supplies for troops.
Baird still lives with the scars of a rocket propelled grenade.
In the face of a 13 Investigates report, he's vowing to get it right for those now coming home from war.
"I would rather not promise a veteran anything than to not be able to deliver," said Rep. Baird, talking about fixing a serious problem uncovered by 13 Investigates in May.
Hoosiers purchased millions of specialty military license plates with the promise that $15 to $20 of every plate would go to a relief fund to help veterans falling on hard times after deployment.
But 13 Investigates found a three-year time limit after deployment and other strict rules, turned veterans away while more than $7 million piled up in a bank account, unused.
"We want to study it enough to make sure we get those requirements right and if we offer it we have the funds to back it up," said Baird.
State lawmakers had a chance to remove the three-year cap back in the spring, but the bill that could have fixed it never got a hearing.
Lawmakers across the aisle say there is a ready solution.
"Our governor and an executive order," proposed newly elected Representative Karlee Macer.
Macer is the ranking Democrat on the Veteran's Affairs Committee. She walked side by side with Governor Mike Pence for his first State of the State Address. Now she wants to work with the Governor to remove the timeline caps.
"This isn't a time to sit around and sit on money when we have people who are so needy," insisted Macer.
Macer says there are lawmakers who believe the relief fund should be offered to other combat veterans.
Right now, the Indiana Military Family Refund does not provide assistance to the men who stood and manned these guns in the Vietnam War.
But like Rep. Jim Baird, Macer isn't in a rush to broaden out the fund to other conflicts just yet.
She says the priority is getting help to those now adjusting to this side of combat.
"We certainly have a lot of work to do and I'm willing to do the work, but people need it right now," said Macer who believes a $5,000 limit will keep the fund from being depleted.
Governor Pence told 13 Investigates just weeks ago that his administration is looking into the issue.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle also say they want to fix the problem and are concerned about the number of homeless veterans here in Indiana. Just this week their ranks grew by 12 percent.
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
302 West Washington Street, Room E120
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Telephone: (800) 400-4520