Jobs for veterans a priority for state, local agencies

By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Officials working to reduce high unemployment among veterans now attack the issue from both ends — they prepare veterans for civilian jobs and educate employers on how to hire veteran talent. In 2013, the veteran unemployment rate in Michigan was 10.6 percent, the second highest rate in the U.S. To combat this, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) created programs that bring veteran talent and employers together. Local organizations are also doing their part to connect veterans to employers in their own community. “It’s a matter of breaking down that wall between employers and veterans, and giving them the opportunity to communicate,” said Kristina Leonardi, director of strategy for Veterans Affairs. The agency starts by preparing veterans for a civilian career through resume building and interviewing skills.

Protecting deployed veterans in custody battles is only fair, bill sponsors say

By CAITLIN McARTHUR
Capital News Service
LANSING – A bill to prevent Michigan military members from losing custody of their children while deployed overseas is a matter of fairness, its legislative sponsors say. “I admit this is a complex issue,” said Rep. Tom Barrett, a Republican from Potterville who introduced the bill last month after a similar bill failed to pass last year. “But I don’t think it’s fair to subject service members to this treatment, and more importantly I don’t think it’s fair to put the child in the middle of it.”
The bill would prevent military service members from losing custody of their children while deployed overseas by allowing a stay of proceedings until their return. It would also prevent judges from considering military status as a factor for altering custody arrangements. Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican who introduced similar legislation late in the last session, said the bill will ensure Michigan judges comply with the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, and provide more protections than that law.

Audit takes state to task for handling veterans claims

By DARCIE MORAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — For more than a decade, Michigan has failed to provide proper oversight and enforce legislative requirements for reporting veterans’ claims and benefits, according to a recent state audit. Veterans officials also failed to ensure the effective and efficient use of state grants given to veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, according to a state Auditor General report issued in December. The findings are similar to those disclosed in a 2001 audit of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. And they come while the newly created Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency within that department is gaining its footing in ways that state officials hope will address the problems the audits disclose. Issues noted in the recent audit include:

Performance standards were not given to veterans service organizations as a basis to determine how well they used state grants.

Landscaping plan for Mason City Hall moves forward

By Daniel Hamburg
Mason Times staff writer
Despite cold temperatures and snow covered land, the City Council continued discussion last heard at the Dec. 16 meeting regarding City Hall landscaping. In the past, a major complaint according to councilman Marlon Brown was that the grass was too high outside of City Hall. “When I went around and talked to people when I ran for election in 2012, one of the things I heard about was ‘What are you guys going to do about that grass in front of City Hall?’” Brown said. Besides problems with the grass, the City Council is taking steps forward to make the city hall a little more colorful.

Veterans would get break in community college tuition

By STEPHEN INGBER
Capital News Service
LANSING – A constitutional amendment that would give all service members and veterans in-district community college tuition regardless of where they live could be on the ballot in 2014. With thousands of returning service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many are accessing educational benefits from the federal government. The state constitutional amendment would provide returning veterans with more affordable college options, according to a legislative analysis. But opponents say the amendment would hurt colleges by reducing tuition that comes from the federal government not students. According to the College Board, the average tuition rate nationally in 2013 for a two-year institution is $3,131.

Medicaid expansion would increase vets' health options

By MICHAEL GERSTEIN
Capital News Service
LANSING — While the Legislature wrestles with a recent House decision not to expand state health care for poor families through the Medicaid program, experts say roughly 20,000 veterans will also be left uninsured if the decision sticks. “They’re going to be left out in the cold,” said Jan Hudson, a health care policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy, which does research and advocacy regarding social issues like poverty, education and health. The House recently rejected Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to expand Medicaid coverage despite available federal funding for the program. According to the league, veterans in rural areas would benefit the most from the expansion because they would be able to use local hospitals in addition to sometimes-distant VA clinics. The league says there are 19 rural counties with federal community-based health clinics for veterans, yet there are 57 rural counties with veterans.

Vets skip dental care, unaware of possible aid

By SAODAT ASANOVA-TAYLOR
Capital News Service
LANSING – Many veterans go without dental care because they are unaware of state and federal programs that provide assistance. Lack of awareness of emergency grants among veterans can also result in delayed treatment, said Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw Township, who is also a physician. “If you wait too long to get dental treatment, it can result in more serious health problems,” he said. The Michigan Dental Association, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund have launched a campaign to raise awareness about assistance programs that veterans may be unaware of. Thomas Kochheiser, director of public affairs at the association, said many veterans don’t access their benefits.

Veterans need help getting more benefits, advocates say

By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan ranks last among the 50 states on veteran’s funding per capita, according to a federal report. Veterans in the state received $2.2 billion in veterans funding, for an average of $3,409 per capita in 2010, while the national average was $4,894 per capita. The state also ranks below in per veteran expenditures for compensation and pensions, education, vocational rehabilitation and medical care. However, some experts view the ranking differently. James Topps, the director of the American Legion Department of Michigan, questioned the federal figures and said the state actually ranks 14th.

VFW draws large crowd for good cause

By Noriah Williams
Mason Times staff writer

MASON – Just outside the town lies a white, wooden building with an American flag flying high. This building is Mason VFW 7309, better known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. It is in this building that for 50 years, men who have fought in wars and conflicts overseas come for support and fellowship. Along with these veterans are the men and women of the American Legion Auxiliary who, though never enlisted in the Armed Forces, join to support these veterans in any way they can. The purpose the VFW hall serves is an important one, yet its survival is under constant threat.

Veterans Day

For the country that was at war, Veterans Day can be very emotional and such was the case on November 11th this year. The special day set aside to honor the veterans, the men and women who sacrificed their time, and even their lives. Veterans’ day is a good opportunity to thank all these who serve the country. Our Savior Lutheran Church and School invited Jeremy Whittum as a guest speaker. He served with the Michigan Army National guard and said he never forgot the friends he knew in the Iraq war.