Indiana veteran license plate cash allegedly not going where it should be

Elizabeth Howe
November 12, 2018 - 10:48 am

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In Indiana, when you purchase a veteran or "Support the Troops" license plate, a portion of the proceeds goes to the Military Family Relief Fund — operated by the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs that provides financial relief to veterans in emergency situations. But two Indiana veterans are claiming that's not where all of the funds are going.

The fund grants up to $2,500 in relief. Funds are limited and roughly 16 percent of applications are for relief are denied. And yet, some individuals are receiving grants in amounts that exceed $2,500 — and they happen to be employees of IDVA. 

"Employees at IDVA have been able to get this fund above $2,500 where veterans around the state have been denied that opportunity,” Lisa Wilken told WRTV. Wilken is an Air Force veteran and a local veteran advocate. Someone contacted her with the state records that show the funding allowance breakdown.

"Those documents show potential misuse with the Military Family Relief Fund," William Henry, former American Legion adjutant told WRTV. “To me, it looked very suspicious and called a lot of things into question and I thought immediately it needed to be looked into.”

When Henry started asking questions and pushing for the Indiana Inspector General to investigate, he says the American Legion asked him to resign.

While declining requests for an interview, IDVA director Jim Brown provided a statement. He explained that those applicants who received more than $2,500 in relief funding were special cases like Gold Star Families, elderly widows, single-parent households and spouses of KIA service members — and the Veterans Affairs Commissions knows about it.

“The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to upholding a high standard of care for all Hoosier Veterans. When we receive applications for those who do not qualify for the MFRF, we provide them with a number of contacts for organizations that assist eligible veterans.

In 2016, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs approved 829 applications and denied 85. In 2017, the agency approved 1717 applications and denied 354. And, in 2018, the agency approved 1425 applications and denied 360. In past years, some applicants have received more than $2500. These situations are rare and at my discretion, but they include Gold Star Families, elderly widows, single-parent households, and spouses of KIA (Killed In Service) service members.

Over the past few months, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs has been in regular communication with the Veterans Affairs Commission which is promulgating rules regarding the $2500 limit. We are also working closely to respond to any and all inquiries the state board of accounts has regarding the administration of this fund.”

Records have been submitted to the Indiana Inspector General and the State Board of Accounts, but the existence or lack thereof of an investigation is not information disclosed to the public this early in the process. In the meantime, Wilken and other veterans want Indiana residents to know the money they spend on veteran license plates might not be going where they think it is. 

“Our state agencies need to follow the rules and most importantly, our good citizens buy those license plates that fund our Military Family Relief Fund,” said Wilken.