More Jobs, Better Services for Hoosier Veterans
The State That Works:
More Jobs, Better Services for Hoosier Veterans
Policy Goal: Improve the quality of life for Hoosier veterans through strategies to reduce veterans’ unemployment, connect veterans with existing federal benefits, and expand educational opportunities for veteran families.
Vision Plan Goals Served:
Goal #1: Increasing private sector employment
Goal #5: Improve the quality of the Hoosier workforce
Goal #6: Improve the health, safety and well-being of Hoosier families, especially children
- Issue an executive order establishing a 3 percent goal for State of Indiana business contracts to be procured through Veteran Business Enterprises (VBEs).
- Direct the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) to review current benchmarks and work to increase the number of Hoosier veterans who are receiving their federal benefits.
- Work with key stakeholders, including counties and veteran groups, to develop a plan to improve training for County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) with an emphasis on working toward U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) accreditation for the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA).
- Expand educational opportunities by lifting means testing for opportunity scholarships for veterans and military families.
- Appoint at least one qualified member to the board of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) who is a veteran.
Our Hoosier veterans deserve our full gratitude and support when they come home after doing their duty. This is especially true since Indiana has the fourth largest National Guard in the United States. Clearly, Hoosiers go above and beyond in answering their nation’s call to serve. Therefore, our call to duty for veterans should be the same as that of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who said in his second inaugural address that we should “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
Veterans in Indiana are hurting, and they need our help. Post-9/11 Hoosier veterans have an unemployment rate that is 15.7 percent, higher than the national average of 12.1 percent (see Chart 1). Hoosier veterans have a median income of $31,211, compared to the national veterans’ median income of $35,367. Finally, advances in medicine save more veterans' lives than ever before, but that's also led to an increase in veterans who are unable to work because of service-related trauma.
To help veterans engage more fully in the Hoosier economy, state government should encourage entrepreneurship by veterans and employment of veterans. To promote entrepreneurship, the state should set a goal to procure 3 percent of its contracts through Veteran Business Enterprises (VBEs), and task the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and the Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to assist VBEs in navigating the procurement process. Taxpayers must get the best value for their dollar in state procurement, but there is no reason why VBE status cannot serve as a tiebreaker if two or more firms are competitive on price.
In fact, state law provides that price be one of the primary factors in awarding contracts. Aside from price, the state can determine public policy issues as to be factors considered when determining whether the lowest price bid is also “responsive” to the state needs. Business creation and employment of veterans is one such public policy issue.
Furthermore, there is a desire among many in the private sector to hire veterans, and providing a boost specifically to veteran-owned enterprises will provide a much needed jolt to the hiring of more veterans. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard instituted a goal for the city to do at least 3 percent of its procurement through veteran-owned businesses. In 2009-2011, this program pumped more than $8 million into veteran-owned businesses in Indianapolis. Before Mayor Ballard’s program, there was no tracking of the city’s procurement with veteran businesses. One hundred nineteen companies have registered their VBE status with the city since the mayor put the program in place.
The three percent goal has the potential to boost veteran employment and hiring. Total state procurement in the first half of FY2011 was $1.18 billion; achieving a 3 percent goal for VBEs would have pumped over $35 million directly into reducing veterans’ unemployment.
Another strategy to reduce veterans’ employment is to ensure that the veterans’ perspective is represented on the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). IEDC leads and coordinates the State of Indiana’s economic development efforts. The IEDC is governed by a board, appointed by the governor, which includes active or retired representatives from the private sector, nonprofit sector, or academia. Ensuring that at least one of these board members is a veteran can offer a new viewpoint on issues and strategies that can increase investment in economic sectors that will put veterans to work, including the defense industry.
In addition to tackling veterans’ unemployment, the state must do a better job of getting veterans access to the benefits they have earned. The federal government provides a variety of benefits to veterans, and spent more than $105 billion on such benefits in the fifty states in 2010. Unfortunately, our veterans are not always aware of the benefits available to them. In a recent survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 41 percent of veterans surveyed responded that they had at least some awareness of the benefits they could access.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, while Indiana has the 16th most veterans in the country, we rank only 23rd in total federal veterans expenditures, and 46th (fifth worst) in total expenditures per veteran (see Chart 2). We need to do a better job connecting Hoosier veterans with the federal benefits already available to them.
To be sure, part of the problem with connecting Hoosier veterans to their benefits is the tremendous caseload backlog at the federal level – now at 900,000 according to one measure.
Indiana did not create this problem, but we can help solve it for Hoosier veterans by focusing on two tasks.
First, Indiana is one of only three states that lack full accreditation for its veterans affairs agency from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This limits the ability of county veteran service officers (CVSOs) to access federal records and assist Hoosier veterans in their benefit applications. We need to set a goal of securing full accreditation for Indiana with the U.S. Veterans Administration.
Second, we need to work with counties to ensure that we can provide quality service to our veterans. Indiana should have the best trained, best equipped veteran service officers in the country, who will connect Hoosier veterans with the benefits they deserve.
Indiana can also do more to help our veterans by giving them access to better educational choices for their children. Indiana’s recent law providing opportunity scholarships, designed for parents to send their children to a school of their choice, was means tested based on the income level of the parents. Under the current rules, scholarships could be reduced by as much as 50 percent for a family of four that makes approximately $64,000 a year, and families who make more are completely ineligible for scholarships. Our veterans have put everything on the line to serve us, and we should not arbitrarily limit the educational choices for their children based on how much they make in a year or where they live. We owe them no less than universal access to all schools in Indiana, whether those schools are privately or publicly run.
Children of veterans and active duty military deserve high quality educational options—no matter where they are stationed, or for how long they are there. Life in the military can often require a family to move more than once, which often means disrupting a child’s education. These children deserve a continuity of education that often is hard to obtain.
The 3 percent contracting goal for Veteran Business Enterprises (VBEs) is designed to help service men and women start or expand their own businesses by setting contract goals relative to the State’s total purchases. Veterans comprise an important group of Hoosier entrepreneurs, and creating a contract goal serves multiple purposes:
- It will promote meaningful business opportunities—both for prime contractors and subcontractors;
- It will help VBEs grow their business networks and promote their services to wider audiences;
- It has the potential to help drive down the high unemployment rate among veterans (as veterans will strive to hire other veterans);
- It will recognize veterans and VBEs as critical components of our State’s economic engine;
- It will serve as a significant, revenue-neutral catalyst for VBE development throughout the State;
- And finally, it will serve as an outreach tool for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
Indiana currently has several contracting goals in place, including Minority Business Enterprises (MBE), Women Business Enterprises (WBE), and Buy Indiana. The MBE and WBE goals are contained in Table 1, along with the proposed VBE goal. Buy Indiana sets goals based on the relative size of the state’s purchase. MBE, WBE, and Buy Indiana are all currently taken into account when awarding construction, goods and services contracts through negotiated, competitive or sealed bids. In these types of procurement methods, the contract is initially awarded to the lowest bidder. However, state officials analyze the proposal to ensure that the bidder is also “responsible and responsive.” In order for a winning bidder to be considered “responsive,” the bidder must show they made a “good faith effort” in attempting to achieve the goals. For goods and service contracts, a Request for Proposal method is also utilized where MBE, WBE, and Buy Indiana are taken into account via a points system that the Indiana Department of Administration (IDOA) uses when determining contract awards.
Many new businesses, whether MBE, WBE, or VBE, are small and cannot compete for larger contracts with the state. However, the use of goals gives incentives to larger prime contractors to hire MBE, WBE and VBE subcontractors.
Through the Veterans Administration, Hoosier Veterans bring billions of federal dollars into the Indiana economy. The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) and the County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) are key components in providing the benefits and services to our veterans at both state and federal levels.
There are 92 CVSOs in Indiana. The CVSOs work for their respective county commissioners or their city/county executive. CVSOs are trained and certified by the state IDVA.
Forty-seven states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands all have their veterans affairs agencies accredited with the U.S. Veterans Administration. Indiana is not one of them. Accreditation means the authority granted by the VA to assist claimants in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for benefits. With only state certification status, CVSOs are limited to assisting in preparation of claims. A few Indiana CVSOs have personally become accredited with the VA through other organizations.
On a national level, the VA case backlog is at an all-time high. Securing accreditation status with the U.S. VA will help us move Hoosier veterans more quickly through this backlog. IDVA also should provide best practices for internal processes, procedures, and management of case loads.
Indiana’s new opportunity scholarship program gives Hoosier families the opportunity to send their children to a school that best meets their learning needs. The scholarship is a state payment that qualifying families can use to offset tuition costs at participating schools. Students qualify based on total household income, and the amount of the scholarship corresponds with the public school corporation in which the student lives.
The proposed reform would remove income restrictions for the scholarships for children of veterans or those currently serving in active duty. All children of veterans or those on active military duty would be eligible for a scholarship equal to 90 percent of their current tuition support, regardless of their parents’ income.
It is estimated that at least 30,000 additional Hoosier children would be eligible based on this expansion. Based on Indiana’s experience in the first year of its current scholarship program, approximately 300-900 (1-3%) additional students would potentially enroll in a school of their choice.
 See Jeff Lowry, Learning a New “Three R’s,” Indiana Guardsman (June 3, 2011), located at http://www.in.ng.mil/PublicAffairs/LatestNewsandVideoClips/tabid/831/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/658/Learning-a-new-three-Rs.aspx.
 See Measuring Indiana: Veterans, located at http://www.incontext.indiana.edu/2012/jan-feb/article2.asp
 See Clark, Scholten, Walker, & Gironda, R. J. (2009). Assessment and treatment of pain associated with combat-related polytrauma. Pain Medicine (2009).
State law requires that construction, goods and service contracts through negotiated, sealed or competitive bids be awarded to the lowest responsible and responsive bidder. See IC 4-13.6-1-16, IC 5-22-7-8, and IC 5-22-7.3-8.
Further, a contract awarded through a Request for Proposal must be made to “the responsible offeror whose proposal is determined in writing to be the most advantageous to the governmental body, taking into consideration price.”
 Indianapolis CityStat June 2012; total does not include over $290,000 in Municipal Corporation spend.
 Calculations based on procurement data from the Indiana Department of Administration.
 See IC 5-28-4-2.
 See 2010 expenditure data table, located at http://www.va.gov/vetdata/Expenditures.asp.
 See National Survey of Veterans, Active Duty Service Members, Demobilized National Guard and Reserve Members, Family Members, and Surviving Spouses, executive summary p. xi, located at http://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SurveysAndStudies/NVSSurveyFinalWeightedReport.pdf.
 See James Dao, Workers Point Finger at Their Own Agency Amid a Backlog in Veterans’ Benefits, New York Times (June 15, 2012).
 For more information, see http://www.in.gov/idoa/2467.htm.
 Data tabulated from 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) public data for Indiana.
 Estimated participation rates based on data gathered from Indiana and other states by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.