Michigan falling short in access to benefits for service members
LANSING – In conjunction with Veterans Day, members of the Michigan House Democrats’ Veterans’ Services Task Force, led by co-chairmen Reps. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) and Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), gave their policy recommendations to put more veterans into jobs and education, improve access to health care and housing, and give active service members more freedom in voting. The proposals come from months of informal meetings with veterans and their families, along with officials in education and at veterans’ homes. Knezek and Santana are veterans of the Marine Corps and Navy, respectively.
“We wanted to take politics out of the question and get to the source – what’s really making life harder for veterans in Michigan,” Santana said. “We heard that while some veterans are too proud to ask the government for help, others don’t know what benefits are available to them. Still others have piles of paperwork and bureaucracy to overcome. We can and must do better.”
Despite having the 11th-largest veteran population in the nation, Michigan ranks 53rd in per-capita spending on veterans’ benefits, behind Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. The task force proposals fall under three headings: transition, education and employment; housing and health care; and policies for those still in the service.
“Unemployment, homelessness and suicide rates are shockingly high among our veteran population,” said Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights), a member of the task force who sits on the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. “Michigan needs to let veterans know that there’s help available. This isn’t a partisan issue. The Legislature can and should act to correct this problem.”
Proposals in the task force’s report include:
Transition, Education and Employment
- Guarantee in-state and in-district tuition to veterans attending public universities and community colleges (House Joint Resolutions L and M, Rep. Knezek)
- Give a tax credit to businesses who hire unemployed veterans (House Bill 4068, Rep. Smiley)
- Authorize private employers to give a hiring preference to veterans
Health Care and Housing
- Initiate a study regarding the establishment of a veterans’ home in Southeast Michigan
- Extend the use of service dogs in public to people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
- Provide funding for public education regarding PTSD services for veterans through the Michigan Veterans Engagement Fund
- Ensure that all absentee ballots from service members overseas are counted, so long as they are postmarked by Election Day
- Enact the Family Military Leave Act to allow a service member’s spouse to take time off without repercussions while that service member is on leave from deployment (HB 4777, Rep. Abed)
- Encourage school districts to adopt a policy granting excused absences for students with parents on leave from active duty
“Veterans don’t want a handout, but we owe it to them to do the best job possible in providing access to the benefits they have earned,” Knezek said. “It’s clear that Michigan can be much better in helping veterans successfully re-enter civilian life, and this report outlines the way to do that.”
To view the full report, please visit http://housedemtaskforces.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Task-Force-Report_VeteransFinal.pdf
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Lansing, MI 48909-7514
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