Senate proposal would aid vets

INDIANAPOLIS — A local lawmaker hopes to make it easier for Hoosier military members — as well as veterans and their spouses — to receive federal benefits.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, has proposed legislation that would waive the driver’s license renewal fee for service members who want to receive a special designation on their ID identifying their military service in hopes of tracking veterans and notifying them of federal benefits they’re owed. The bill also extends to spouses of veterans who have died.

The bill expands legislation already in place. A 2011 law created the indicator on state-issued IDs, to make it easier for veterans to prove their military status for various benefits, including disability compensation, employment aid, housing grants and more. The emblem also had an everyday purpose; flashing an ID with a veteran symbol made it easier to receive discounts at restaurants and stores.

But since 2011, only about 19,500 of the 475,000 veterans estimated to be living in the state had requested the designation; Crider hopes waiving the fee will encourage military members to update their information more regularly, such as when they move, instead of waiting for their license to expire every six years.

It also would aid state officials who hope to track veterans living in Indiana.

The Bureau of Motor Vehicles could create a database of Hoosiers with the designation that would enable the state to follow veterans and send notices about their benefits, Crider said.

Crider’s legislation, Senate Bill 382, has been assigned to the Veterans Affairs and the Military Senate committee, of which Crider is a member.

Typically, renewing a license costs $17.50; waiving the fee for veterans alone is estimated to cost the state some $918,000, according to the Legislative Services Agency, which calculates the cost of proposed legislation.

That could prove cost-prohibitive, Crider said; but he isn’t giving up on the proposal, which he said is important in helping the men and women who have defended the country. He’s working with the BMV to find a way to offer the service that doesn’t cost the state as much.

The legislation is backed by the Indiana Military Coalition, which listed the proposal as one of its legislative goals for the year.

The coalition argues it’s hard to know who the state’s veterans are and where they live; providing driver’s licenses without charge provides an incentive for individuals to identify themselves as veterans and allows the state to capture data on where they live. Because licenses must be updated at least every six years, it will be easier to track veterans who move.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.