All veterans should support Senate Bill 316, which is designed to help even more veterans who are in desperate need of financial aid, counseling and help finding a good job – three things the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs is really good at.
SB 316 would allow the department to provide Military Family Relief Fund assistance to not only honorably discharged veterans but also to veterans who were discharged under “other than honorable” conditions. “Other than honorable” does not include military members who were court martialed or dishonorably discharged.
As some of us know, veterans can be put out of the military under the “other than honorable” designation for a one-time minor offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A lot depends on the local commander. An “other than honorable” in one command may just be a “general discharge under honorable conditions” in another command, so much is up to the discretion of the local commander.
Veterans with “OTH” discharges are normally the ones who are going to need the most help. The discharge follows them into the civilian world, making it harder for them to get a decent job to support their family.
Many veterans know someone who served maybe even deployed a couple of times then screwed up one time based on the strict rules of the Uniform Code and a tough commander put them out with “other than honorable” status.
In the opinion of the Indiana VFW, that person is still and will always be a veteran regardless of how they were discharged. Don't let the critics of SB 316 make you think the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs wants to give benefits to someone who doesn't deserve them. People with a dishonorable discharge will not be considered.
Even the federal Veterans Administration will provide benefits to veterans with an “other than honorable” discharge. The VA “conducts a character of service determination to assess eligibility for benefits” using the veteran's separation codes. The VA tries to determine whether post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or another reason caused or contributed to the “OTH” discharge.
The three-digit separation code and the other information on the form explain why the veteran was discharged. The Indiana department, with the approval of the Indiana Veterans Commission, wants the ability to do the same, determine whether the veteran should be eligible for some basic benefits.
The other issue some critics are complaining about is that the department wants to use a small portion of the fund to help administer the program. Several other organizations in the state, including the universities and other charities, use part of their donations for administrative purposes.
Thousands of Indiana veterans are not aware of the Military Family Relief Fund or how to apply. With this additional funding, the department would be able to reach more eligible veterans. Now more than ever we must get the word out and hopefully be able to help more veterans and their families. The department would only be allowed to use up to 10% of the funds collected annually for administrative purposes and then only with the approval of Indiana Veterans Commission.
SB 316 is good legislation for all Indiana veterans. The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs along with the Indiana Veterans Commission should be given the authority to help more veterans. The money is available, just sitting there not helping anyone.
Tell your local representative to support SB 316. We all need to help all veterans in need.
Richard Leirer, an Army veteran, is junior vice commander and legislative chairman for VFW in Indiana.