Indiana lawmaker seeks tighter management of veterans fund
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana lawmaker is seeking to tighten up management of a grant program meant to help struggling veterans following revelations that the state agency that oversees it awarded some of the grants to its own employees.
Republican Rep. Randy Frye, of Greensburg, submitted a bill Thursday that would make Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs employees ineligible for grants from the Military Family Relief Fund and would firmly cap the lifetime amount a person could receive at $2,500, The Indianapolis Star reported.
The measure would also set a 60-day window for the approval or denial of grants and prevent the state agency from awarding them to veterans who submit incomplete applications.
The agency’s leader, James Brown, resigned last month following reports that he awarded money to veterans who worked under him, including workers earning $40,000 to $50,000. Some received grants for expenses such as new tires and car payments, even though other veterans said the agency refused to provide assistance for their vehicle needs.
In certain cases, agency workers and other veterans received grants that exceeded the published $2,500 lifetime limit.
Frye said that he filed his legislation “with the intention of righting what I consider are some wrongs.”
“I don’t think someone within the organization should be receiving funds that they themselves can steer. And I think if there’s a limit of $2,500, it should apply to everyone,” he said.
Brown’s resignation came after The Indianapolis Star and WRTV-TV questioned the agency’s administration of the fund, which is supported by fees from specialty veteran license plates. Brown, a decorated Vietnam veteran, denied wrongdoing.
Veterans advocates were raising concerns about the program for months and even sought an investigation by the Indiana Office of Inspector General, which declined to take the case.
An investigation by the Star found that middle-income employees at the state agency had an inside track on the emergency assistance grants. That investigation and a subsequent state audit also found that the program was poorly managed, with some applications languishing for months while others were processed even though they were incomplete.
Frye filed the bill in the Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee, which he chairs, giving him wide latitude to guide the legislation.
He plans to work on the bill with other lawmakers and the governor’s office for several weeks before giving it a public hearing.
The Indiana Veterans’ Affairs Commission, an appointed board that was formed in part to guide use of the fund, is in the process of adopting more stringent rules to govern the fund, which was created in 2007 to aid veterans facing financial hardship.
Since 2014, more than 5,700 Hoosiers have applied for a grant through the $1.7 million annual program. Nearly 1,000 of those were denied at least one grant. On average, applications took 9.4 days to approve, the state audit found. Eighty-eight applicants — including five Veterans Affairs employees — received permission to receive more than $2,500.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com