INDIANAPOLIS – For three years, retired U.S. Army Col. James Leonard has worked with Rep. John Bartlett, D-Indianapolis, to fill the Statehouse with Hoosier veterans for one day during the legislative session.
“We’ve got about 48,000 veterans that reside in Indiana, and we’re about the fourth largest in terms of deployment overseas,” Leonard said. “But we rank near the bottom in terms of benefits received by veterans in this state.”
Legislators and veterans joined forces Monday for the annual Indiana Military Veterans Legislative Day to share their opinions on legislation concerning veterans’ issues.
Active and retired military members marched from Military Park in Indianapolis to the Indiana Statehouse to kick off the day.
U.S. Navy and Marine Corps veteran William Reisa joined more than 30 Hoosiers Monday in the march to the Statehouse. Reisa, who serves on the Rolling Thunder legislative council, had one major focus for his visit.
“For years, they’ve had an issue on the books — not taxing military retirement pay,” Reisa said. “It’s never been passed. It’s always there, but they haven’t even brought it to the floor.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda includes a push for exempting military pensions from state income taxes.
Indiana is ranked 48th in the country for veterans’ affairs, including benefits and pensions, according to AMVETS Indiana. Reisa said he wants to change that, and he isn’t alone.
Ron Martin, a representative of the Military-Veterans Association of Indiana, visited the Statehouse with the hope of making his own voice heard.
More than 40 veteran bills have been introduced to the General Assembly so far, according to Martin. While these bills require financial backing, Martin called on the veterans in attendance to reach out to their elected officials over the course of the session.
“A Hoosier veteran is not a thing — it’s a person,” Martin said. “It’s a mother, a father, a brother or sister, a farmer, a business person, public servant, a community leader, a volunteer and a voter. It’s you and me.”
Among the list of speakers at Monday’s event were Holcomb, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
Holcomb, who served in the U.S. Navy, joined fellow Navy veterans as the 38th Infantry Division Band played the Navy service song.
“Every time freedom has been challenged and tested, Hoosiers have stepped up and in to defend it,” Holcomb said. “Merely saying thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough to fully express how valued you are and how grateful we remain for your service and for your sacrifice.”
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.