State’s VA director resigns amid assistance fund controversy

Indiana Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Jim Brown has resigned following allegations that some state employees were receiving special treatment from the department.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Friday morning that he had accepted Brown’s resignation, effective Dec. 28. Brown has served as director since February 2013.

Earlier this month, several Indiana veterans raised concerns that state employees were receiving special treatment when requesting money from the state’s veterans assistance fund, known as the Military Family Relief Fund.

Some veterans also claimed their applications were stalled for weeks or months or that they were denied assistance for services that state employees received.

The fund was created in 2007 to help veterans with food, housing, utilities, medical services and transportation. It receives a portion of sales from veteran license plates or Support the Troops plates.

At least 11 employees of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs have been awarded money from the fund, collectively receiving about $40,000 in recent years, with some receiving more than the fund’s $2,500 limit. One employee received $1,100 for new tires, while another employee's application was approved the day it was submitted. Most of the grants were awarded during a period of 2-1/2 years when veterans affairs officials hadn't adopted rules governing the $1.7 million program.

In response to the accusations, Brown said "no laws have been broken" and that employees don't approve their own requests.

Brown acknowledged that he may have approved employee requests more quickly than other requests because he was aware of the employee's circumstances.

"No one is being hurt by what is happening here," he said. "There is no great tragedy here."

Brown led the department during two administrations following a military career in which he was awarded three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam and Afghanistan.

“Sgt. Maj. Brown is a good man with a distinguished service record,” Indiana Gov. Holcomb said in a written statement. “I am grateful for his longstanding service to our state and country.”

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