Lest We Forget, Part 2

This is Mike Hoey writing to you.

The U.P. has a higher share of military veterans than any other region of Michigan.

Last night, we heard from area veterans about what it’s like to be one of them.

But what sort of safety net is in place to make sure veterans who need care and treatment can get it?

That’s the topic of Part 2 of my week-long series, ‘Lest We Forget’.

Jim Shelly from Gwinn served in Vietnam 5 different times.

As a veteran, he’s most concerned about recent vets from Iraq and Afghanistan and their ability to receive V.A. care, especially if they’ve been wounded.

But there *are* people in the U.P. who make sure America’s promise to take care of veterans and their loved ones is kept.

All Michigan veterans’ groups have service officers who not only help fill out V.A. paperwork and advocate for claims, but also address any service questions veterans and their families might have.

Rick Stewart is an Army veteran himself, and he’s the American Legion service officer for the U.P.

He and the other VSOs work hand-in-hand with county counselors, and it’s a very effective combination.

They serve people from as far away as Green Bay, because that’s how far some people travel to get to the Oscar Johnson V.A. Medical Center in Iron Mountain.

“The service organizations, all 11 of us, receive a total of about $4.1 million dollars in state monies, but in exchange for that, we bring in about $330 million dollars into the state,” Stewart says. “That’s in federal monies that come directly into the local economies across our state.”

However, he says the real value of the work can’t be measured in terms of dollars, when it comes to standing side-by-side with veterans and their families whenever there’s a crisis and in terms of the life-long friendships they create with each other.

The same holds for families of those who are killed.

Richard ‘Chic’ LaFave of Gwinn says they at the VFW post have a widow of an area soldier who was killed in Iraq earlier this decade who has 3 young children to care for.

Chic says she deserves to have a helping hand.

Area veterans say it’s a relief to have that help, and they encourage anyone who served but doesn’t know where to get help to contact a service officer.

Wally Kari is the commander of the Gwinn VFW post, and he says his interactions with service officers have always been great.

He says he frequently refers people to the Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette to talk with officers like Rick.

Stewart says about what he does, “It’s not a career. It’s not a job. It’s a mission, and the need of these men and women is overwhelming.”

But that mission may soon become harder to accomplish.

There’s a new bill entering the state Senate that may dramatically change the way veterans’ services are run in Michigan.

I’ll have more about that Wednesday night in Part 3 of ‘Lest We Forget’.

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