INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Indiana American Legion has reacted sharply to the vote by the Indiana Senate Appropriations Committee to drastically reduce the long-standing Indiana veterans' benefit commonly referred to as 'Remission of Fees.'
The strictly party line vote, with eight Republicans voting for the measure and four Democrats voting against, came February 3, in a hearing in which representatives of major Veterans Service Organizations voiced the opposition of their members. Legion leaders vowed to fight the effort "every step of the way."
The bill, SB 577 authored by Senator Luke Kenley (R-20th) would limit the amount of the remission of tuition and fees to 20 percent plus a percentage equal to the disability rating applied to the disabled veteran. Under current law, the children of veterans with any disability rating adjudicated by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is entitled to one hundred percent fee remission.
The financial impact prepared by the State Legislative Services Agency reported the cost of the fee remission in 2008-2009 was $18.8 million foregone by the state's universities for 5,063 students. The agency estimated the cut in the benefit could result in savings of $2.5 million at current levels, or up to "$9 million depending on the number of scholarships provided," or put another way, the VSO argue, "depending on the number of disabled veterans denied the benefit."
The Remission of Fees benefit has provided state college tuition to the children of service connected disabled veterans living in Indiana since it was first introduced in 1935. The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and the Disabled American Veterans as well as other veteran representatives told members of the Appropriations Committee that to "cut this benefit in a time of war and with thousands of Indiana Guard and Reserve troops returning home from combat every month, is unthinkable. We will fight this effort every step of the way."
Stephen W. Short, Indiana American Legion Department Adjutant told members of the committee to "consider that during any American wartime period, including the one we're in now, fewer than 10 percent of Americans wear the uniform of their nation. An even a smaller percentage of our fighting men and women incur injuries or wounds that bring about their disability rating.
"Now during a war that has more Hoosiers committed to combat operations than any time since World War II, we have members of the majority political party who want to scale back benefits to those same Hoosiers who risk everything for us and ask nothing in return, other than to enjoy the benefits all of your predecessors saw fit to award."
In spite of the warnings from the veterans' groups, all of the Republican members of the committee voted to move forward with the legislation. The four Democrats, in unanimously opposing the measure, voiced concerns similar to those raised by the veterans. A companion bill asking for many of the same cuts will be introduced in the Indiana House by Rep. Tom Dermody, Republican from LaPorte.
The Commander of 100,000-member Indiana American Legion, Leland Baxter of Sellersburg, has encouraged all members of the Legion and its affiliated organizations – some 100,000 Auxiliary and Sons of The American Legion members – to contact their Senators and Representatives in opposition to the measure.
"This unwarranted cut in an earned benefit – not an entitlement, but an earned benefit – at a time when unemployment is high and the supply of workers trained and educated for the jobs of the 21st Century is low is utterly irresponsible," Baxter said.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee who voted for the measure:
- Chairman Luke Kenley (R-20th), Noblesville
- Ed Charbonneau (R-5th), Valparaiso
- Phil Boots (R-23rd), Crawfordsville
- Connie Lawson (R-24th) Danville
- Patricia Miller (R-32nd), Indianapolis
- Ryan Mishler (R-9th) Bremen
- Tom Wyss (R-15th), Fort Wayne
- Brent Waltz (R-36th), Greenwood
Democrat members voting against SB577 included:
- John Broden (D-10th), South Bend
- Lindel Hume (D-48th), Princeton
- Earline Rogers (D-3rd), Gary
- Karen Tallian (D-4th), Portage
Committee member Brandt Herschman (R-7th) was not present.
SOURCE American Legion Department of Indiana