We Veterans had a tough news year in 2014: from the VA hospital scandals and questionable scheduling practices for appointments, to increasingly severe health problems, to rising reports of sexual assault in the military.
Yet, despite this seeming roller-coaster of bad news, I am hopeful for our Michigan Veterans in 2015. The two year old Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA), led by Director Jeff Barnes, has achieved progress on several fronts. And while some will argue progress has been slow, you have to start somewhere.
For starters, Michigan has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of Veterans signing up for benefits, and per-capita income for veterans receiving federal funds has increased by approximately $1,020 per veteran.
That puts the state at 48th among the states and territories in federal veterans expenditures. Clearly, there is much room left to grow, but we should not forget that Michigan ranked 53rd in the category at one point.
A pilot program, known as Veterans Community Action Teams (VCATs), which Governor Snyder’s administration has funded, has fostered beneficial collaboration with local organizations, allowing them to better serve Veterans. These VCATs connect various service providers in their area of expertise assist the Veteran. Previously, these isolated organizations had no contact and no knowledge of each other’s skillsets. The MVAA’s pilot programs in Detroit and Grand Rapids were successful enough to have the program expanded to four more communities in 2015, followed by another four in 2016.
Also, the legislature took positive action in 2014 to reverse the negative trend of rising unemployment among veterans, which ticked up to 10.6 percent in 2013 from 7.9 percent in 2012. The most recent bills ease licensing requirements in certain professions that can fast-track veterans and allow them to apply their military experience toward those credentials.
Some estimates show some 80,000 skilled jobs are available in Michigan. Meanwhile, there will be anywhere from 30,000-50,000 veterans returning home in the next five years. The training our Veterans receive from the military is the best in the world. Let’s tap into that potential. I call on the legislature, the MVAA, and Governor Snyder to continue efforts to ensure our Michigan Veterans have their particular skillsets matched for these skilled jobs so that they can be plugged into these positions. We can accomplish this goal by continuing to foster collaboration.
Lastly, Michigan leads the nation in “Veterans Treatment Courts,” which help reintegrate veterans into their communities. In 2012, Michigan had just six of these courts; today, the number is 20. Combining drug court and mental health court principles, these courts have yielded tremendously positive results toward helping veterans overcome addictions and other mental conditions.
So I look forward to the next 12 months with optimism. One New Year’s Resolution all of us – citizens, policymakers, and elected representatives – should have is to do right by our Veterans.
Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone (ret.)
General Fausone began her military career in the U.S. Air Force, and ended her service as the first female Brigadier General in the Michigan National Guard’s history. Today, she continues to help veterans and their families nationwide with her husband, Jim, at Legal Help For Veterans, PLLC.