Expanding community networks close gaps in veteran services

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Capital News Service
LANSING — If a disabled veteran in Eaton County is unable to shovel snow this winter, a new network of local veterans service providers can find a solution in a matter of hours.
The Veterans Community Action Team programs (VCATs) improve communication among veteran service providers and combine resources to give veterans more complete aid, said Elena Bridges, veterans services community coordinator for the West Michigan Veterans Coalition. These action teams are expanding to cover all regions of Michigan.
Many veteran aid organizations have existed for decades, but these groups never fully collaborated until action teams were introduced, said Troy Schielein, director of Wayne County Veteran Services and a Marine Corps veteran. When a veteran needs help, it often takes multiple forms of aid, including financial, legal and health services, to find a solution. Now, several members of an action team work together to provide a complete solution for a veteran’s problem.

Since the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) launched the action team program in 2013, hundreds of people representing veterans service providers have joined these community networks.
“The entire purpose of the VCAT program is to identify those gaps in services and address them head-on,” MVAA Director Jeff Barnes said in a press release.
The Veterans Affairs Agency contracted with the nonprofit Altarum Institute, headquartered in Ann Arbor, to establish the teams. Altarum, which provides health research and consulting, is now working to create action teams in each of 10 regions throughout the state.
Bridges coordinates the first action team created in Michigan, the West Michigan Veterans Coalition, which began in Kent County and grew to cover a region of 12 west Michigan counties. The program then expanded to the Detroit area.
This year, the program has began further expanding to cover the mid-Michigan and thumb areas. Just under 100,000 veterans in these regions will be able contact any organization involved in their action team and receive aid from all member organizations able to help.
The program will expand into more central and southeastern regions later in the year, in an effort to have self-sustaining teams in all regions when the state’s contract with Altarum ends in September 2016. Each team must be able to function independently without state funding. Schielein said he is confident the metro Detroit action team will be ready to stand on its own.
As an example of how the community teams work, Schielein told the story of a Korean War veteran who sought help last year. Both he and his wife were in their 80s, and the veteran was not able to care for his wife, who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease and was physically abusive. He had been denied help from many organizations and felt there was nowhere else to turn.
Schielein, whose regional action team was just getting started, sent an email to all of his members, and within minutes began getting answers from those able to help. Local law enforcement and adult protective services were immediately notified. The veteran received financial and health care aid. Free legal services were provided to prove the veteran was eligible for the Medicare he had previously been denied.
Bridges said the holistic response enables groups with different specialties to do their jobs better.
“Instead of just thinking about the program the we are serving in,” she said, “let’s think about the veterans first.”
Additional resources for editors:
To learn more about the action teams’ program and mission, visit altarum.org/our-work/veterans-community-action-teams-mission-project.

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