Charles T. "Tom" Applegate
Ms. Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I’m honored to be here today to speak to you on behalf of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. My Department supervises Indiana’s ninety-one (91) County Veterans’ Service Officers who, in turn, represent the veterans of Indiana.
I am proud to able to say that the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs was one of the first in the nation to partner with the State Adjutant General of the National Guard to bring first-class transition services to the officers and enlisted members of that organization. Since our first workshop in Portage, Indiana on 29 April 2006, we have helped to transition 1,078 National Guard men and women back into civilian society.
The official Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels in a public ceremony at the Indiana Statehouse on March 17, 2006. That MOU established the Hoosier Veterans Seamless Transition Program (HVSTP) to assist Active Reserve Forces, which includes the Indiana National Guard and Reserves, with the transition to civilian life upon returning from active-duty overseas
Governor Daniels remarked, “Our veterans have performed the most important public service of all. We are a state of patriots and we should do everything we can to assist and thank these men and women who have given so much for our benefit.”
The program ensures that returning veterans are provided with assistance related to their transition from military active-duty to civilian life, including necessary medical care, information about benefits and entitlements, and employment. The HVSTP is a partnership between the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Joint Forces Headquarters, U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Benefits), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Health), the National Guard Family Assistance Offices, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves (ESGR), TRICARE, Indiana Workforce Development, and the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation as well as other state veterans’ service providers.
The governor was joined by Adjutant General R. Martin Umbarger, myself from the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and representatives from various veterans service organizations across the state, including the American Legion, VFW, AMVETS, and the Disabled American Veterans.
The workshops enable the participants who have not already done so to enroll in the VA Health Care System, file a claim for service-connected disabilities they may have sustained while on active duty, receive readjustment counseling from either the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) counselors from the VA Medical Centers or from the counselors at a local Vet Center, resolve any employment difficulties they may be experiencing, find resolution for any TRICARE problems, enroll in family assistance weekends, and learn of any state veterans’ benefits to which they may be entitled.
This program has been highly successful and the participants themselves have scored the workshops with high marks.
On 17 March 2006 Governor Daniels also signed Senate Bill 75 which established the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF). This fund provides grants for the families of Hoosier members of the Indiana National Guard or Armed Forces Reserves who have been called to active duty since September 11, 2001. A portion of the money for the fund is raised through the sale of the “Hoosier Veteran” license plate and the new “Support Our Troops” plate created by the bill. The fund can be used by the reservist or their family for things such as non-receipt of pay, loss of funds, medical, dental & hospital expenses, clothing, utilities, fire or other disasters, essential private owned vehicle, unexpected repairs/maintenance, dependent funeral expenses, emergency travel, rent, or food.
To be eligible, the service member must have been on active duty orders for 30 days or more and the cause of the financial difficulty must be connected to the mobilization or deployment. Eligibility extends to six months after being released from their active duty orders.
To date this fund has provided grants to the families of National Guard and Reserve members totaling over $100,000.
On May 3, 2007 the Governor signed Senate Enrolled Act 480 which established the Veterans Affairs Trust Fund. Once a funding source is established, this fund will provide the same kind of relief for members of the active duty and their families and for members of the general veterans’ community.
On March 24, 2008 Governor Daniels signed HB 1249 (IC 21-14-10 ) which provides a remission of tuition fees at state supported colleges and universities for recipients of the Purple Heart medal. This will assist those returnees who suffered injuries resulting in the receipt of this medal to attend college tuition-free.
State law also provides that National Guard and Reserve members who are employed by the State of Indiana and who are called to active duty in the Guard or Reserves, will receive the difference between their military pay and their state salary.
Senate Bill 480 also provides a tax break to returnees the year following their return. Any military pay earned during the entire duration of their active duty orders is exempt from state taxes, not just the time they served in a combat zone. This will provide a tremendous relief to this group of taxpayers.
We have recently learned that some of these men and women return to Indiana and face the possibility of becoming homeless. This is totally unacceptable and the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs has lately become more involved in preventing this condition for those who have given so much for their state and nation.
In conclusion, I wish to thank the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity for the opportunity to present this testimony.