Expanding veteran assistance program 

By Jess Seabolt
A bill that will mean more assistance for veterans who have served in the military or National Guard during a time of national conflict after Sept. 11, 2001 will go into effect July 1.

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Senate Bill 352, authored by Sen. Allen Paul, R-Richmond, expands the military family relief fund by removing a requirement that veterans receive assistance within three years of either leaving the service or a military conflict ending.

The fund provides veterans with money to assist them in many aspects of daily life such as food, housing, utilities, medical services, basic transportation, childcare, education, etc.

The fund has a current balance of $7.5 million and receives revenue from the sales of the Hoosier Veteran and Support Our Troops license plates. The state created the Veterans Affairs Trust Fund to provide a self-sustaining funding source for the relief fund, which also receives revenue from the sale of the Prisoner of War/Missing In Action license plate.

"It gives them a chance to apply for money they've actually earned," Paul said about the fund.

SB 352 include removes the time limit, gives priority to veterans who have never received a grant from the fund and requires the Indiana Veterans Affairs Commission to set a maximum total dollar amount of grants that may be spent per year.

Russ Eaglin, deputy director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, expects an initial spike in applicants after July 1 and says it's a good thing to provide "our Hoosier veterans with assistance."

About 100 veterans and their families have received help from the fund since 2012 when lawmakers increased eligibility by moving the deadline for assistance from one year after a soldier left the military to three years. Total grants to those families totaled $218,000 - or about $2,180 per veteran, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Currently, applicants within their three years of eligibility can receive grants of $5,000 per year over a three-year limit - or a $15,000 maximum grant amount per family.

Paul says that those who are in charge of the fund don't want the balance to run out and expect to keep at least $1 million in it at all times.

Rep. Richard Hamm, R-Richmond, who sponsored the bill, said he is happy that the bill will help Hoosier veterans and give them "an opportunity to get a leg up."

Hamm said that he didn't get a chance to serve but says it's not very often you get the opportunity to help people.

"I feel very, very fortunate to show my appreciation by more than saying thank you," said Hamm.

Jess Seabolt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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