While introducing a war hero at a recent speaking event, University of Michigan – Flint Chancellor Ruth Person ruminated on how things have changed since she was young. Growing up in the Vietnam era, she remembered those who served in the armed forces being treated very poorly when returning home.
Americans today distinguish between a soldier’s willingness to serve his or her nation in an overseas conflict and the validity of that conflict. Those who serve in foreign lands risk their lives every day. The Fort Hood and Navy Yard shootings show life-threatening risks exist on American soil too.
The luckiest of America’s troops return home. Michigan has the honor of being home to the eleventh largest population of veterans in the country. It also has the shame of ranking dead last in the total benefits paid to those veterans.
In a February 2013 interview with Michigan Radio, Jason Allen, the senior deputy director for veteran affairs for Michigan’s Department of Military and Veteran Affairs (DMVA), said that many of Michigan’s veterans do not take advantage of benefit programs due to veterans being unaware of available support and the lack of integration of veteran assistance into many areas of society.
The DMVA previously issued a March 2011 report regarding veteran demographic trends in Michigan. This report showed Michigan’s veteran population shrinking. The topic “Michigan Veterans and Growing Pains” revealed over half of Michigan’s veterans were between 50 and 70 years-of-age.
The same report documented Michigan veterans made up 7.1 percent of Michigan’s general population, but 7.5 percent of Michigan’s homeless population were veterans. This is a disgraceful statistic.
It is hard to look at these facts, together with the other information contained in the DMVA report, and not come to the conclusion that Michigan veterans are in crisis.
Bringing attention to this crisis is a mission for former Capt. Luis Carlos Montalván, author of the bestselling book, “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.” Capt. Montalván is the war hero whom Chancellor Person was introducing in Flint.
With his furry spirit Tuesday always by his side, Capt. Montalván suggested Michigan should form some type of emergency state committee to address the issue of Michigan veterans not getting the benefits they so highly deserve.
Many of Michigan’s veterans agree with Capt. Montalván’s idea. These veterans are frustrated when trying to get the benefits to which they are entitled, there is too much paperwork, too little understanding and eventually they just give up.
After reviewing the March 2011 report, this question is begged — has the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs tacitly given up as well on some veterans?
Capt. Montalván was expecting Flint Congressman Dan Kildee to attend his appearance, but according to the Congressman’s office, was unable to due to the impending possibility of a government shutdown. In his absence, Capt. Montalván issued a challenge to Congressman Kildee, “What are you doing to help veterans in the 5th Congressional District?”
Capt. Montalván poses a very good question. We will all have to wait and see if Congressman Kildee and the state of Michigan have an equally good answer.