Bartels: Supporting our Hoosier veterans, military

Military veterans made tremendous sacrifices in the defense of our state and country. In turn, they deserve our support when they’ve completed their service and return to civilian life. As the new chair of the House Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee, I’m working on legislation that could help more Hoosier veterans in need.

The Indiana Military Family Relief Fund provides year-round grants for veterans needing financial assistance for everyday needs like housing and food. The program continues to see increases in the number of applications, families served and assistance awarded. This session, I authored legislation to increase the maximum grant allotment from $2,500 to $3,500. The additional grant funding would be supported through annual revenue from military service-affiliated license plates and a self-sustaining trust fund dedicated to this program. Also, the maximum amount of the grant would increase based on annual cost-of-living adjustments that are in line with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ calculations starting next year. The legislation would also expand eligibility for the program to veterans not just honorably discharged but to those discharged under any conditions other than dishonorable.

The Indiana Veterans’ Home offers nursing care, short-term rehabilitation and other services for honorably discharged veterans and their spouses. Currently, applicants must be an Indiana resident for at least one year before being eligible. My legislation would make a veteran who’s not a state resident eligible as long as they change their legal residence to Indiana within six months of admission. With over 100 beds currently open at the home, help is available for many veterans who need it.

This legislation would also define who’s eligible to receive grants for veteran services to include immediate family members and primary caregivers. This could streamline the process of administering assistance to veterans who are unable to take care of themselves.

It’s not just veterans who need support, but also our military, especially with new recruits. While Indiana remains a top state for students serving as military reservists, that number has dropped in recent years. Part of the problem is our state moved to a balanced school calendar, leaving only eight weeks of summer vacation. This limits the ability of students to opt into a split training option as a reserve, since basic training lasts longer. My legislation would increase the number of excused school absences for basic training from 10 days to 15.

House Bill 1202 now moves to the Indiana Senate for further consideration. Follow it through the process, as well as watch session and committee meetings, at iga.in.gov.

State Rep. Stephen Bartels (R-Eckerty) represents House District 74, which includes Crawford, Perry and Spencer counties, and portions of Dubois and Orange counties.

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