By MEGAN DURISIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Proceeds from a proposed new instant lottery game would assist Michigan veterans facing problems with homelessness, health insurance costs, disability benefits, post-traumatic stress disorder and long-term care.
Rep. Harold Haugh, D-Roseville, the primary sponsor of a bill to create the game, said a similar lottery exists in Illinois. He projects the new lottery could raise $4 million to $6 million per year for Michigan veteran services.
“Veterans have had a loss of funding and a loss of services because of the economy,” Haugh said.
State aid for such programs has been cut by about 26 percent, he said.
“We asked veterans to defend us as citizens of the United States and we need to provide them with services when they return,” Haugh said.
Other sponsors include Reps. Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores; Gino Polidori, D-Dearborn; Roy Schmidt, D-Grand Rapids; and Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland.
Haugh said veterans often suffer from post-war trauma when they return from the service and many rely on food banks and government health benefits.
Haugh said the bill was designed to supplement veterans’ affairs funds without increasing taxes.
Mark Lindke, president of the Michigan Association of County Veterans Counselors, said the state should examine some current veterans laws before a new lottery is put into action.
“It seems to me maybe they’re creating another fund which will require another level of administrating and another level of monitoring when we may be best served to take a closer look at some of the existing laws,” Lindke said.
Lindke said counties provide direct local services to veterans through their Veterans’ Relief Fund. However, Lindke said not all counties levy a millage, or property tax, to benefit veterans, which is required by law.
Lindke, who is also the director of the Washtenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs, said there are about 20,000 veterans in his county and 900,000 across the state.
“When we’re providing services to veterans, it’s often for veterans and their dependents,” Lindke said, adding that an estimated 45 percent of state residents are related to veterans.
Lindke said many soldiers currently are returning from war with brain injuries and significant disabilities, something he said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hasn’t adequately addressed.
“They’re also facing the same problems we are stateside,” Lindke said. “The economics are miserable and they’re no better for returning soldiers.”
Lindke said the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs has experienced budget reductions, which has led to fewer grants it can give to veterans.
Major Dawn Dancer, public information officer for Military and Veterans Affairs, said this year marked the first time funding was cut to veteran service organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Catholic Veterans of America. Those organizations help veterans with paperwork to file for federal benefits.
“It directly affects the amount of time that’s available to be given to veterans,” Dancer said.
Dancer said Michigan is one of the only states to give state money to such organizations. She said the decrease in funding has mainly affected administrative costs at the two state-run veterans homes in Grand Rapids and Marquette.
Dancer said veterans often need services to reintegrate into civilian life when they return from war.
“When soldiers are in service, they’re living on a base so everything you need is right there,” Dancer said.
The department helps provide medical services, physical therapy and counseling and chaplain services, she said.
Renee Clark, director of the Clare County Veterans Services, said her county has about 3,500 veterans and many don’t take advantage of available resources because they can be a long distance away.
“In the rural areas, there can be a lack of resources for veterans,” Clark said. “Some of the veterans coming back from the war, and even some from Vietnam, flounder because they don’t realize the services are available.”
Clark, who supports the lottery legislation, said the VA recently opened a new clinic in Clare County.
The bill is pending in the House Regulatory Reform Committee.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
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By MEGAN DURISIN