EAST CHICAGO — Homelessness programs, tax credits, the creation of a scratch-off lottery ticket to fund veterans programs, and the ability to pay their bingo volunteers were among the top priorities discussed at a veterans town hall meeting Tuesday night.
About 120 people, mostly veterans and their families, were drawn to Tuesday's town hall meeting at the American Legion Allied Post 369 in East Chicago and hosted by the Hammond Disabled American Veterans Indiana Chapter 17.
The town hall centered on proposed legislation potentially impacting local veterans in the upcoming legislative session.
Lisa Wilken, legislative chair for Indiana AMVETS and an Air Force veteran, said Tuesday’s event was a chance for veterans to speak up about priorities they want to see highlighted in the state capitol and served as a nice lead-in to the upcoming Indiana Military Veterans Legislative Day on Jan. 9 in the state capitol.
“This is an opportunity to have a face-to-face with their legislators, let them know what you like, don’t like about these proposals,” she told veterans in attendance. “Send an email, call them. Tell them ‘I expect to meet with you.”
Wilken was among the representatives who spoke from various veterans groups, including the Indiana departments of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and American Veterans.
Several lawmakers in attendance said they would support the veterans' groups legislative and sign on as bill sponsors.
Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said he has pushed over the last “four or five years” for a bill that would allow service organizations to pay $50 to its members who assist with Bingo events. Veterans’ halls membership is on the decline, but Randolph said the incentive could attract new volunteers.
Others talked about the need to push for free tuition for children of honorable discharged veterans, a lottery scratch-off ticket that would pay for veterans programs, and a well-funded veterans court that would provided drug or alcohol treatment for low-level felons or those treated with misdemeanor crimes.
North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan said he continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the East Chicago Housing Authority to create a transitional housing program for homeless veterans in the city.
He said officials have selected a property in the city’s Harbor section, but rehab of the property is ongoing to make the housing livable, he said. Mrvan said the goal is to have the East Chicago Housing Authority provide the housing, while his office will assist the veterans with sustainable employment, credit counseling and mental health services over a 12-15 month period.
The program Mrvan is pushing would allow veterans to remain housed with their families instead of being separated.
Steve Spisak, an Air Force and National Guard veteran, said he’s thankful for the housing that’s been made available to he and other homeless and disabled veterans at NWI Veterans Village in Gary.
“All we needed was our clothes. The apartments (are completely furnished),” he said.
Several Region politicians, including state Sens. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, Rep. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, and North Township Manager Frank Mrvan Jr. were in attendance.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, were also there, along with Lake County Council Members Christine Cid, D-5th District, and Dan Dernulc, R-4th District.