May is a month for celebrating, remembering and honoring the brave men and women of the past and present who serve our great county in uniform. Armed Forces Week begins on the second Saturday in May with Armed Forces Day following on May 19. To remember the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, we also recognize Memorial Day on May 28.
As these commemorations take place this month, it's a good time to ask what we can do to better serve those who serve us.
Unfortunately, soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face an unemployment rate significantly higher than the overall U.S. rate. State lawmakers addressed this issue recently by passing a new law that helps military members convert skills they learned in the armed forces into jobs and college credits when transitioning back to civilian life.
Under House Enrolled Act 1116, some training requirements for certain professional licenses will be waived in order to accelerate the hiring of military members who are equipped with unique and needed expertise learned during their military service. Hoosier soldiers continuing their education at state colleges and universities can also have credits awarded to them if they completed courses as part of their military training.
The law also helps military families who are often forced to move due to assignments. It waives several professional licensure requirements for military spouses if they hold similar licenses in another jurisdiction and demonstrate competency in their fields of work.
In addition to helping our veterans academically, the General Assembly made great strides in expanding greater financial assistance to military families. Under House Enrolled Act 1059, we honored our brave Hoosier military members who have sacrificed so much for our country, by providing their families with additional help for basic needs during economic hardships.
In 2006, I authored Senate Enrolled Act 75, to create the Military Family Relief Fund (MFRF), and provide monetary assistance to military veterans and their families during hardships. I'm happy to report that since January 2, 2007, the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) has been accepting grant applications from the families of deployed or recently deployed Indiana National Guard members and members of the Selected Reserves to receive financial assistance from the MFRF.
Grants from the MFRF are currently available to veterans for one year after deployment. My Senate colleagues and I wanted to lengthen that period, because we understand that sometimes one year is not enough. HEA 1059 does just that, extending the eligibility period to receive assistance from one year to three years. The emergency grants can be used by the families for needs such as food, housing, utilities, medical services, transportation and other essential family support expenses, have become difficult for many to afford, during the national economic recession.
There is no greater privilege than to honor those who have given so much for our freedoms. While this measure is only a small token of our overwhelming gratitude, it is my hope that it goes a long way toward providing some much-needed financial aid in the months and years to come. These efforts will help military members and their families, but there is always more we can do to honor their sacrifices.
God bless our soldiers, veterans and their families.