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More needs to be done for Hoosier veterans

My Opinion
John Gregg, Guest Writer

As the former president of Vincennes University and Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, I have come to know personally hundreds of Hoosier veterans and I, and all Hoosiers, have deep respect and gratitude for their service. I was pleased to see that the Indiana General Assembly recently passed a number of bills related to Hoosier men and women who have served or are currently serving in the military and their families.
However, as I talk to veterans around the state, I hear that these bills do not address the major issues faced by our veterans’ community and, while Indiana will always be a patriotic state, we can and must do more for our military families.
Hoosier veterans are a resource that we must do a better job of cultivating. Veterans are motivated, hardworking and bring unique skills to our state. They should be at the very heart of our efforts to strengthen the economy, revive our state’s manufacturing sector and adapt to a globalized 21st century marketplace economy.
Currently, Indiana is ranked 46th in the nation for veterans receiving the benefits they earned primarily because of not knowing what benefits are available or how to access them. A recent survey also ranked Indiana dead last, 51st in the country, for military retirees. This survey was based on three metrics: ‘economic environment,’ ‘quality of life’ and ‘health care.’
What does this all mean?
It means that veterans are leaving Indiana. Between 2013 and 2014, Indiana saw a 65-percent increase in the number of veterans who left for other states. We must turn this around. We need to get serious about working to attract and retain veterans in Indiana …
So how do we do this?
Many, if not most, of the benefits veterans earned during their service are federal benefits … Currently, Indiana-based Veterans Administration claims have an average wait time of 226 days, the eighth poorest performance in the country. This is simply unacceptable. I will urge our federal representatives to enact innovative approaches like full ‘freedom of choice,’ which could allow veterans to access private health care services closer to home. It just doesn’t make sense that veterans in northwest Indiana have to waste an entire day traveling to Chicago to see a doctor because that is the closest V.A. hospital. We should be able to find better, more efficient and convenient ways to serve them.
Here in Indiana we need to do a number of things. The Indiana Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs must do a better job of reaching out to veterans and do more to support our county veterans service officers, the folks that are on the front lines of helping Hoosier veterans access their benefits.
Indiana should create state level veterans service officers to support county officers who are stretched thin by high caseloads. We should support organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion who take it upon themselves to help their fellow veterans when county service officers are unable. We also need to make sure there are more women veteran service officers who understand the specific needs and benefits associated with Indiana’s 35,000 women veterans.
Increasing the amount of benefits received by our veterans by just 10 percent, a completely reasonable number, would inject more than $853 million into the Hoosier economy.
We will also eliminate the current duplication of job placement services being offered by both the Indiana Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development. We will take a look at what’s working in the current system and strengthen it and reform what’s not working so that our job placement programs are able to better address the specific needs of our veterans and highlight the unique skills that they offer Indiana employers.
Finally, Indiana must do a better job of addressing the health and safety needs of veterans, including working to reduce veterans’ homelessness and making the prevention of veteran suicide a priority. …
I will continue to sit down with Hoosier veterans, learn about their needs and then lay out my vision for how we make Indiana the most pro-veteran state in the country.
John Gregg has worked throughout the public and private sector. He served as president of Vincennes University, Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, worked for two Fortune 500 companies and is a practicing attorney. He earned an associate degree from Vincennes University, a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University, a master’s degree from Indiana State University and a law degree from Indiana University. He and his wife, Lisa, have three adult children and live in Sandborn in Knox County.