Lest We Forget, Part 3

This is Mike Hoey writing here.

About 1 out of every 6 adults in the U.P. is a military veteran.

That means many of us in the region get help from the V.A.

But a new bill in the state Senate could dramatically change the jobs of the service officers who help vets obtain those benefits.

Here’s that story in Part 3 of my week-long series, ‘Lest We Forget’.

Rick Stewart is a veterans service officer out of the Jacobetti Home in Marquette.

He calls himself, and the other service officers statewide, jacks-of-all-trades.

Stewart says lots of the phone calls he gets actually have nothing to do with the V.A., but with other social services around the U.P.

He says because of strong relationships with other service groups that the veterans’ groups have built over the years, they can give just about any kind of referral anyone could want.

It’s free of charge for veterans and their families.

Michigan veterans’ groups receive state funding to pay the service officers.

But the state Senate Appropriations Committee is considering a new bill that may change that.

Senate Bill 250 would place the service officers under more direct state control.

It would eliminate the $4.1 million of funding the veterans’ groups receive each year.

That money would instead be set aside for a new state agency called the Michigan Veterans’ Directorate.

The directorate would then contract out the service officers’ jobs.

The idea flies directly in the face of what Governor Jennifer Granholm wants.

Stewart says even with the state’s shaky budget situation, she recommended for this fall that the groups continue to get the same funding.

In fact, last year they got a raise.

There’s no word on whether or not service officer consultations would remain free of charge if they lose their state funding.

But it may not happen at all, in light of a new development in the state Senate last week.

Stewart says they proposed an amendment to the bill so that the veterans’ groups don’t lose their funding.

However, he thinks the fact that it’s even being considered is indicative of a nationwide attitude that veterans are a forgotten population.

He says regardless of political party, recent Presidents of the U.S. have shown through their actions that veterans aren’t a high priority by doing things like having the V.A. deny veterans benefits while the country is fighting 2 wars.

I contacted State Senator Mike Prusi’s office in Lansing several times by phone and e-mail in the last few weeks, trying to arrange an interview for this story.

The senator from Ishpeming Township, and the staff members who arrange his schedule, never replied.

But U.P. veterans have a lot to say about Senate Bill 250.

And I’ll have that part of the story Thursday night in Part 4 of ‘Lest We Forget’.