Neal Steeno

When soldiers are sent into war, they often leave a chunk of their hearts and souls on the battlefield.

They may make it home, but part of them remains tied to that far-off battleground.

Tim Keenan of Traverse City lived with that hole in his heart and soul for more than 40 years. He was a 20-year-old infantryman in the fall of 1967 when he was dropped into the frontline fighting in Vietnam at Dak To.

Funeral homes in the area make sure the veterans get a burial at the Great Lakes National Cemetery
flickr user abarndweller /

It's impossible to know just how many homeless veterans are on America's streets.

The federal government estimates that there are nearly 50,000 vets who are homeless on any given night.

The National Coalition on Homeless Veterans tells us they've served in every conflict from World War II right up to Iraq and Afghanistan, although nearly half of homeless veterans served in Vietnam.

The reasons they are homeless are many: lack of affordable housing, inability to make a livable income, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

Seventy years ago today, the people of Japan heard their emperor’s voice on the radio for the first time. In perhaps history’s best example of euphemism, he told them, “Circumstances in the world conflict have proceeded in a manner not necessarily to our advantage.”

World War II, the greatest war in history, was over. Sixteen million Americans had served, hundreds of thousands from Michigan. Nearly thirteen thousand Michiganders died. I was born less than seven years after it ended, and growing up, most kids’ daddies had been in the war. They had souvenir Lugers and helmets and battle flags.

Catherine Shaffer / Michigan Radio

A  veterans fair in Washtenaw County today offered one-stop shopping for employment, counseling, health, and other services. About 20 groups participated in the event at Scio Township Hall. Michigan U.S. Reps. Tim Walberg and Debbie Dingell hosted the event. 

Organizations on hand to offer help included the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, the VFW Department of Michigan Service Office, the Washtenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs, Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Veteran Program, Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors, and many more. 

Two Iraq War vets are now serving in the State Legislature
flickr user cedarbenddrive /

There are two Iraq war veterans now serving in the state Legislature.

Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, both took their seats in November 2014, and they’re working hard toward a goal of improving veterans’ affairs here in Michigan.

Vet to media: We're not all broken

Jul 9, 2015
Courtesy of Jason Hale

The Next Idea

I am a veteran of two wars – one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.  Joining the military has been the best decision of my life.  But if you spend any time watching the news or scrolling through social media, you might wonder why I would say that. 

The model for Team Red, White, and Blue is simple. Give veterans and civilians the chance to run together in a relaxed environment and let conversations and friendships happen naturally.

There are no fees or forms or requirements to take part, and everyone is welcome.

What started with a few veteran friends at the University of Michigan in 2010 has now ballooned into 115 chapters all over the U.S.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Especially in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. They burned everything from tires, batteries, and plastic to human and medical waste.

Curtis Gibson is an Air Force veteran. He served in Afghanistan in late 2011.

“I’d see things floating in the air — burned papers — you see them floating through the air so you know you’re taking something in,” Gibson says.

He says he had a medical exam when he came home to Detroit.

401(k) 2013 / Flickr

This week in Michigan Politics, political analyst Jack Lessenberry talks about a new law affecting school districts in trouble, college tuition hikes, a former inmate healthcare snafu, and Michigan veterans.  

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

There are many stories about how going to war impacts individuals. But what about the impact of overseas service on families? As we continue our series, Beyond the Battlefield, meet a family whose members have fought battles overseas and back home as well.

"No" is not an option

Marines on Flickr /

The Department of Defense reports 20,000 service members experienced at least one sexual assault in 2014. That's virtually unchanged since 2010, despite the Department of Defense's insistence that it has tackled the problem and that "most active-duty members received effective training on sexual assault."

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

In Afghanistan and Iraq, especially in the early years, soldiers burned their waste in big, open-air pits. 

“A burn pit’s just a big hole in the ground. You push dirt up and just have trash there, and light it on fire and walk away,” says Army veteran Eric Mullins.

Mullins and I met up in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, near where he works.

He served in Iraq in 2003 and again in 2008. On his first tour, he was assigned to burn barrels of human waste.

Courtesy photo / Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center

The VA hospital that serves 26,000 veterans in the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin is having trouble recruiting healthcare providers.

Plus, almost one in five employees at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center is eligible for retirement.

Brad Nelson is a spokesman for the Iron Mountain based clinic. He says they’ve compiled a list of providers they’re expecting to be short on in the next decade.

We must do more than say "thank you" for veterans in Michigan

Jul 6, 2015
Flickr/wiguardpics /

The Next Idea             

I can’t recall a time when I was thanked for my military service and didn’t wonder just what exactly that person meant. Were they thankful that I took the defense of the nation in hand? Did they think that I stood watch on some specified border between insurgents and our coalition forces? Perhaps it was simply good American manners that they show appreciation for those who serve.

John M. Cropper / Flickr

A new poll from Michigan Radio and Public Sector Consultants asks voters in Michigan about their perception of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The survey of 600 Michigan voters found that a strong majority support the military as an employment option, despite the fact that most do not have family currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

9-11 veterans: Jamaine Atkins, Sherman Powell, Russ Dotson (top, L-R), Cassie Michael, Curtis Gibson, Andrew Hunter (middle), Eric Fretz, Cody Barnhart, Brendan Lejeune (bottom).
Mark Brush, Paula Friedrich, Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

There used to be a time in our country's history when many people had a connection to someone serving in the Armed Forces - people had a brother, a cousin, an uncle or an aunt who served in WWII, Korea, or Vietnam.

Today, having that connection to the military is not as common. Volunteers fill the military's ranks, and civilians have grown farther apart from those who put their lives on the line.

All this week, we're bringing you stories about Michigan's post 9/11 veterans - stories about what life has been like since their return home.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

After spending years of taking orders in the military, a growing number of Michigan veterans are now giving orders in the civilian world. 

"A couple years ago, I had a few home-brew beers with a buddy of mine," Erik May says. "And I started asking him where the beer geographically came from.  Where the ingredients came from.  Pretty quickly I realized there was a big need for local malt."

From that realization, Air Force veteran Erik May launched his West Michigan malt-making business.

Veterans who prefer a quieter Fourth of July weekend can find fireworks-free celebrations at a dozen state parks between now and Sunday.

Park officials say the idea for the events came from conversations with veterans. They say the sound of loud fireworks can trigger distressing memories for many vets – especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

World War II ended 70 years ago in September. Here are three stories from veterans who live in Michigan.

We'll start with a love story.

Bill Berkley, U.S. Navy, Pacific

Bill Berkley was just a kid without a care in Paducah, Kentucky until December 7, 1941.

“I was 14 years old, but I can remember that day just like it was yesterday. We had been playing football and I got home and mom was crying,” Berkley says, recalling when he first learned of the attack and the death of so many sailors.

 U.S. Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho speaks on Capitol Hill for National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day June 27, 2012
user Army Medicine /

As veterans return home after serving in the Middle East, the nation is becoming increasingly aware of post-traumatic stress injury.

PTSI affects millions of vets and significantly boosts the risk of depression, suicide, and drug- and alcohol-related deaths.

On top of that, for the veterans struggling with PTSI, it can lead to more run-ins with police.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

People across Michigan are taking time today to remember those who’ve died serving in the US Armed Forces.

Thousands of people lined the streets in Dearborn for that city’s 91st annual Memorial Day parade. 

Further north in Flint, a much smaller observance of the holiday took place.

Allan / Flickr

If you like a quieter holiday on the Fourth of July, there are 12 state parks hosting fireworks-free celebrations this year.

The state Department of Natural Resources organized the events after a veteran pointed out that Independence Day can be difficult for some former service members.

Cadence is a member of the Warrior Transition Brigade Service Dog Training Program.
user Ash Carter / Flickr

There's new legislation at the state Capitol that would help protect veterans with service dogs from discrimination.

State Senator David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, served in Iraq and he is sponsoring the bills.

Courtesy of David Kiley

It was one of the most jubilant days in history.

VE Day: the end of the Second World War in Europe. 

David Kiley of Ann Arbor has a unique link to that historic day 70 years ago.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan businesses that hire unemployed veterans would be eligible for up to $4,000 in tax credits under recently proposed legislation.

The Hire MI Heroes Act is expected to be introduced as legislation in Michigan's House and Senate soon with bipartisan support.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A group of volunteers has been welcoming veterans and active military servicemen and women home for the holidays at the Grand Rapids airport.

Volunteers with “Operation Handshake” come almost daily around the holidays. They line up with signs and flags. Those they can identify as soldiers get a warm welcome, a Christmas card and a salute.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The mournful sound of taps echoed across the Great Lakes National Cemetery this morning.

More than 1,000 people attended Veterans Day ceremonies at the cemetery in Holly.

Many came to remember fallen comrades, family members and all who served America as soldiers, sailors and marines.

Patrick Lafferty is the American Legion Department Adjutant. He says it’s important to pause and remember on Veterans Day.

“To ensure that everyone who breathes the fresh aid of freedom is reminded of the price paid and the men and women who paid it,” says Lafferty. 

Two months ago, I told the story of a Vietnam veterans’ group in Detroit that has been fighting for recognition for all veterans of all wars for years. Vietnam Veterans of America, Detroit Chapter 9, has been a force in Detroit for many years.

They have reached out to help homeless and messed-up veterans. They got an annual Veterans Day parade started again. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve let veterans of our newer conflicts know they were appreciated and welcomed.

They’ve also had a dream. They’ve wanted to build a Veterans memorial park open to anyone, which would commemorate all of America’s conflicts. I’ve seen the design; it is not overly militaristic, it doesn’t glorify combat. It mostly tells the story of our nation’s military history, and honors those who helped make freedom possible.

But for years, the veterans have been shown little respect by the city of Detroit. Originally, they wanted to build their park in a large vacant lot on Woodward Avenue, and at least one mayor told them that would be fine. The veterans cleaned it up, drove off the junkies, paid an architect to design a plan.

Then another mayor gave it to his buddies to park cars on instead. Later, Detroit City Council told the veterans they should consider Gabriel Richard Park on the Detroit River.

Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton

There are now 17 counties in Michigan that offer special courts for veterans, to try to steer them towards treatment, instead of incarceration.

Monroe County began its new Veterans Court this month.

Melody Powers is a veterans outreach justice coordinator with the VA Health System in Ann Arbor.  She says many veterans who get in trouble with the law have untreated alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.  But it's often very difficult for them to ask for help.

Flickr/jnn1776 /

Michigan's female veterans can now take a survey to help policymakers develop services that will better fit their needs.

The Michigan Women's Commission is conducting the survey.

Susy Avery is the executive director of the commission. She says the main goal of the survey is identify service gaps, and fix them.

"I think awareness is critical," Avery said. "So many times when you're hearing a lot of stories about veterans, women are kind of left out of it because they just don't realize that there are so many of them."