Senate Bill 352 proposes to put more money in the hands of veterans
By Sandra Chapman, WTHR investigative reporter - bio | email
Indiana lawmakers now have the chance to right a wrong and put more money into the hands of veterans in need.
New proposed changes are on the table at the Indiana Statehouse. Senate Bill 352 is the result of a 13 Investigates report, showing the state stockpiling money from the sale of military license plates while turning away veterans.
"I served you, I gave my life to you, I need some help...help me!" said Willie Ray Kimball, describing his desperation in 2012 for financial help.
Kimball's plea for help is now being heard at the Indiana Statehouse. He is one of nearly 100 veterans turned away by the Indiana Military Family Relief Fund as the state stockpiled more than $7 million from the sale of veterans license plates. Money that was raised to support our troops.
Last fall, the former Iraq veteran talked about the heartbreak at home.
"We were facing eviction, our lights got shut off. We were literally at the end of our rope," Kimball revealed.
The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs ruled Kimball ineligible for financial assistance. Under state law, veterans are given a narrow three-year window to apply for money after returning from deployment.
Kimball was eight months too late when he applied.
"It was really kind of a shot in the gut for me," Kimball told 13 Investigates.
13 Investigates revealed something more troubling: The IDVA and lawmakers knew the eligibility period was a problem for many veterans, but failed to fix it last year, a revelation sparking outrage by the Military Veterans Coalition of Indiana.
"I contend that we can and must do better," said Ron Martin from the coalition.
Martin said the average grant amounts given each year were about $130,000, compared to the millions added to the fund annually.
Now, an Indiana Senate Committee is taking action with a new proposed Senate bill that removes the three-year limit.
The chairman of the Veterans Commission that oversees Veterans Affairs supports the bill, but took a shot at the 13 Investigates report that got the ball rolling.
"It really was a misplaced attempt at embarrassing the administration, I believe," criticized Chairman James Bauerle.
"Do you think this was an effort to embarrass your administration or the governor?" 13 Investigates reporter Sandra Chapman asked Director Jim Brown.
"Oh, not at all," Brown responded.
The director in charge of overseeing the funds at IDVA says the proposed changes sparked by 13 Investigates are part of the governor's "2014 roadmap."
"The money's there. The families need assistance, so let's give it to them," Brown told 13 Investigates.
Brown wants lawmakers in both the House and Senate to get on board so veterans previously denied, like Kimball, can reapply.
"If they were to look back at my case and say, 'You know, we should have done something here, and we didn't,' that would be great," said Kimball, hoping for change.
The proposed changes would take effect July 1. Veterans who were previously denied or turned away because of the time limit would get priority review. IDVA would also set a limit on what's awarded annually to prevent the fund from being depleted.