Michigan Finally Steps Up for Veterans

The 2014 budget, which still needs Snyder’s signature, includes $1.5 million to improve a program connecting veterans with jobs.

After years of neglect, Michigan veterans’ issue in the public policy realm are being adequately addressed.

“By and large, the veteran issues for many years haven’t had a champion,” said Rep. Harvey Santana, a Democrat from Detroit who served in the Navy.

His Republican colleague and fellow veteran Greg MacMaster, of Kewadin, agrees: “The state wasn’t as friendly to veterans, and now we’re turning that around.”

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A veterans’ agency was created by Gov. Rick Snyder with a cabinet-level director. Additionally, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing a number of bills aimed at assisting those who served their country.

“I’m very happy to see that there’s been a change of heart. It appears that the legislature is more in tune to the needs of veterans now,” said Doug Williams, legislative affairs chairman for the American Legion Department of Michigan.

“The governor views it as a special duty and responsibility to ensure that we’re connecting our veterans with education and employment opportunities as well as their veterans’ benefits and services,” said Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel.

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Last month, Reps. Santana and David Knezek announced that they are leading a Democratic task force to identify ways to better serve veterans. They will travel the state and speak with veterans to identify the biggest areas of concern, and turn those into legislation.

Michigan has historically failed in serving its veteran population, which ranked 11th largest nationwide in 2010. The latest estimates by the federal government peg the state’s veteran population at more than 680,000 as of September 2012.

In 2010, Michigan ranked dead last for per-capita utilization of federal veterans’ benefits. The state showed a slight improvement last year, rising to fourth-lowest. State veterans affairs officials warn that the report is deceiving because it includes high-cost capital expenses for VA centers or federal settlements with other states.

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Post 9/11 veterans in Michigan faced an unemployment rate of 29.4 percent in 2010, the highest in the U.S., according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. That rate lowered to 14.4 percent in 2011 and 6.8 percent in 2012, but the JEC notes that the relatively small veterans’ population makes it difficult to compare unemployment rates across states and over time.

The 2014 budget, which still needs Snyder’s signature, includes $1.5 million to improve a program connecting veterans with jobs. It would link the federal Hero 2 Hired(H2H) program with the state’s online job portal to help translate military occupational terms to comparable skill sets for civilian positions.

“Veteran interviews with human resources departments sometimes are like an English as a second language interview, because there’s such a disconnect with acronyms, jobs, duties, responsibilities,” said Jeff Barnes, Director of the freshly minted Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

Michigan is the first state to link H2H with a separate workforce development program; it should be fully operational within a year.

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The state struggles with attracting veterans to use the GI Bill to pay for higher education or vocational training, even though schools like Central Michigan University and Ferris State University are recognized as being military and veteran friendly.

Read more: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/06/michigan_veterans.html

Christopher J. Berry is an elder law lawyer in Michigan Dedicated to helping seniors, veterans and their families navigate the long-term care maze. To learn more visit http://www.michiganelderlawattorney.com/ or call 248.481.4000