December 3, 2018

Indiana Veterans Question Veterans Assistance Fund Handling

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two Indiana veterans are raising concerns that state employees are receiving special treatment when requesting money from the state's veterans assistance fund.

Air Force veteran Lisa Wilken and Army veteran William Henry are concerned about how the state's Military Family Relief Fund is being managed, WRTV-TV reported . Other veterans said their applications were stalled for weeks or months or that they were denied assistance for services that state employees received.

The fund was created in 2007 to help veterans with food, housing, utilities, medical services and transportation. It receives a portion of sales from veteran license plates or Support the Troops plates.

Army veteran Amanda Rickert turned to the fund in the hopes of finding permanent housing and getting assistance repairing her truck. She said the agency denied her request, citing that funds can only be used for rent and utilities, not vehicle issues.

National Guard veteran Eddra Harrington said it took her four months to get approved for a grant. She said she also wasn't awarded funds to help with her vehicle issue.

At least 11 employees of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs have been awarded money from the fund, The Indianapolis Star reported .

Employees have collectively received about $40,000 in recent years, with some receiving more than the fund's $2,500 limit. One employee received $1,100 for new tires, while another employee's application was approved the day it was submitted.

Most of the grants were awarded during a period of 2½ years when veterans affairs officials hadn't adopted rules governing the $1.7 million program.

Agency Director James Brown said "no laws have been broken" and that employees don't approve their own requests.

"I approve those grants," he said. "If they are a veteran, they have every right to use the benefits."

Brown acknowledged that he may have approved employee requests more quickly than other requests because he was aware of the employee's circumstances.

"No one is being hurt by what is happening here," he said. "There is no great tragedy here."

Brown said the cases that have exceeded the limit are for special circumstances.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Eric Holcomb said he's waiting for results from an ongoing state audit of the agency.

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