veterans

Spc. Garett Hernandez/flickr

Over the past 12 years, nearly 50,000 American troops have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The visible injuries are often lost limbs from roadside improvised explosive devices. 

But, there are so many who are coping with the "non-visible" injuries: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, for example. The kinds of injuries that can worsen with time and tear apart a soldier's home life, or worse.

Today we talk with Rick Briggs, a retired Air Force Major who has come up with what he thinks will be a perfect refuge  for these vets: Camp Liberty, using the beautiful outdoors of mid-Michigan as a place of healing.

Briggs is also the manager of the veterans program for the Brain Injury Association of Michigan. 

Click on the link above to listen to the full interview.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update 4p.m.

The home’s administrator Sara Dunne says the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs just completed an annual inspection of the home in April. “They will not leave the homes if they feel there’s sub-standard being provided,” Dunne said.

There is no abuse and neglect going on at the home,” Dunne said, “There’s very strong language of what abuse and neglect is in long term care and there have been no instances of that at all.”

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., says we are failing when it comes to providing health care to those who have served in the military:

"Our nation has a moral obligation to provide quality health care to the men and women who put on our nations uniform and are injured and wounded fighting our nations wars… Our responsibility ends only when the wounds are healed…I am sad to say that we as a nation are not meeting this obligation."

He made these remarks in early April during an opening statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee Joint Hearing on Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs.

Back in August of 2012, we reported on the long wait time for veterans filing disability claims.

At the time of our report, veterans in our area were waiting an average of 319 days for a decision from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs on their disability claims. The national average was 257 days.

Unfortunately, there have been few improvements.

Today, the average wait time in our area is 321 days, a slight increase since 2011. And according to a Missouri Watchdog report published last week, the national average has increased to 290 days.

This map shows the number of backlogged VA claims around the country. The Center for Investigative Reporting updates the map every Monday to show changes in each office's pending claims.

Revamping vets' services

Apr 7, 2013

Michigan's new Veterans Affairs Agency director says the state needs to do a better job connecting its nearly 700,000 veterans to services.

Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial

Organizers are hoping to build a World War II memorial in Michigan.

The Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial would be built in Royal Oak's Memorial Park along Woodward Avenue.

The memorial would honor Michigan's role in building what FDR called the "Arsenal of Democracy" and the men and women who served. From the group's website:

Senator Levin speaks with military member
Carl Levin

  The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

There are 670,000 veterans in Michigan — the 11th highest population of veterans in the US.

However, Michigan comes in last place (after Guam) when it comes to the amount of federal money spent per veteran. The benefits and assistance exist, but why aren't they being used?

Jason Allen is the senior deputy director for veteran affairs for Michigan's Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. He pointed to three reasons that can be attributed to Michigan's low ranking.

michigan.gov

This week nearly 150 nursing assistants are getting laid off at a state-run home for veterans.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is one of two state-run hospitals for veterans in Michigan. More than 700 veterans are housed there.

“It’s a continuation of a process that we started back in October 2011,” said Suzanne Thelen, Public Information Officer for Michigan’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Stateside: Veteran receives highest honor from French government

Nov 15, 2012
Mercedes Mejia

When Glenn Dickerson shakes hands, he feels he is representing every soldier with whom he once fought.

The World War II veteran shook many hands on Tuesday as he was awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal.

“I feel with that medal I represent others’ feats, those who didn’t make it back," said Dickerson.

Stateside: The men with the bomber planes and the man with the camera

Nov 12, 2012
Brad Ziegler

Flying bomber planes over German and Japanese terrain, Bill Rosnyai and Murray Cotter spent much of World War II in the air.

In observation of Veterans Day, Stateside spoke with Rosnyai, a former navigator on a B-17 in Europe and Cotter, a former bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific.

Joining them was Brad Ziegler, a freelance photographer who has been photographing Michigan’s World War II veterans, particularly as the vets took special “Honor Flights” to visit the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.

CASCO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Four men say they have unearthed pieces of a World War II-era fighter plane in a southeastern Michigan farm field.

Jim Clary, his brother, Ben, and two men from the Michigan Treasure Hunters used metal detectors to make the find earlier this month in St. Clair County's Casco Township just east of Richmond.

Jim Clary tells the Times Herald of Port Huron the recovered fragments are from a P-38D Lightning that was piloted by 2nd Lt. Al Voss, a native of Elgin, Ill., assigned to the 94th Pursuit Squadron stationed at Selfridge air base in Michigan.

Voss died in the October 1941 crash.

The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak reports the men uncovered several shards of the plane about 8 inches down in the dirt.

Scott King / flickr

As part of Michigan Radio's Seeking Change series, Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley talked with Terran Frye. He’s a veteran of the Marine Corp and had two deployments in Iraq. He’s now the veteran liaison for an organization called Stiggy’s Dogs, based in Howell Township. It trains psychiatric service dogs to help military vets who suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury.

The Michigan Senate passed legislation today establishing a system of veterans' courts.
cedarbenddrive / Flickr

A set of bills passed by the state Senate today, the anniversary of 9/11, lays the groundwork for establishing a system of veterans' courts.

The Michigan Public Radio Network's Jake Neher reports:

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Snyder proposes Blue Cross overhaul

"Governor Rick Snyder has proposed an overhaul of the rules covering Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan. It calls for Blue Cross to become a customer-owned not-for-profit insurance company. Blue Cross would have to pay taxes adding up to $100 million a year or more, but it would be better able to shield its rate-setting decisions from competitors. One of the biggest changes under the federal law is insurance companies can no longer reject applicants based on their health history. Right now, Blue Cross is the only insurance company in Michigan that has to accept all applicants, regardless of their age or health history.  For-profit insurance companies say they want the overhaul to make it easier for them to challenge Blue Cross’s market dominance," Rick Pluta reports.

The future of Belle Isle

"Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing have called a news conference Wednesday on the future of Belle Isle park, a tattered green gem that has been subject of a city-state power struggle. Proposals for a Michigan takeover of the under-maintained 985-acre park have met fierce opposition from some local officials who call it a state power grab. Michigan promises park improvements under an agreement between Snyder and Bing that staved off a state takeover of Detroit, struggling with a chronic budget deficit. The agreement says Belle Isle will operate "as part of a cooperative relationship with Milliken State Park" along the Detroit River," the AP reports.

Veterans' courts

"On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, state lawmakers pushed forward a plan to give veterans a better shot to stay out of jail if they commit a non-violent crime. The state Senate unanimously passed two bills establishing a framework for creating veterans courts. They offer judges the option to send veterans to rehabilitation programs instead of jail. There are a number of similar courts in Michigan already. The measures passed unanimously in the House in May. They now go to Governor Snyder’s desk," Jordan Wyant reports.

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

We've written before about the "unfinished business" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... caring for thousands of vets who are coming home after multiple tours with symptoms of PTSD or other disabilities.

Vets seeking benefits to help with their disabilities can face long wait times.

Thanks to a new analysis released today by the Center for Investigative Reporting, we can get a sense for how long those wait times are.

Michigan.gov

Governor Rick Snyder’s plan to save money by privatizing nursing assistants at a state-run home for veterans is legal. The state’s Court of Appeals issued the decision Friday.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is one of two state-run hospitals for vets in Michigan. More than 700 are housed there.

Governor Rick Snyder privatized about 170 nursing assistants at the home last year to save around $4 million.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Vietnam veteran finally received one of the nation's highest military honors on this Independence Day.

Arnold Spencer got his Purple Heart more than four decades after he was wounded in the leg and refused medical evacuation.

Spencer was only 19 years old when he served as an artillery forward observer in an infantry unit in Vietnam.   

He was wounded in a firefight, but turned down a medical evacuation, allowing a more seriously-injured soldier to go in his place, and returned to his unit.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Thousands are expected at Detroit’s Cobo Center this week for events meant to help veterans gain a foothold in the job market.

The National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo, as well as an accompanying job fair and veterans open house, is being touted as a major event to connect veterans with job opportunities.

It comes at a time when there’s increasing awareness of veterans’ struggles returning to a tough job market.

A jobs fair for veterans in Detroit this week is expected to draw thousands of job-seekers and prospective employers from across the Midwest.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Veterans Administration.  The need in Michigan and surrounding states was a big reason to hold the event in Detroit.

Jason Allen is the deputy director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He says more than one in 10 Michigan veterans are unemployed and looking for work.  Employers from across the Midwest will be interviewing for 22,000 openings.  

Allen says other sessions will help small business owners who are veterans with advice and help winning government contracts. They’ll also connect veterans with benefits they’re due for their service.

“We’re, unfortunately, not utilizing our G.I. Bill. We’re not utilizing our pensions and compensations, and we’re not using our health care.”

Allen says Michigan ranks last out of all the states, Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico in veterans using their government benefits.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder today asked  businesspeople to make a special effort to hire veterans returning from overseas duty. It’s the topic of one of the sessions this week at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Island conference.  It’s attended by 1,500 of the state’s business and political leaders.

The governor says returning veterans face an unemployment rate of about 30 percent, something he calls “unacceptable.”

“So we need to help these people,” Snyder said. “So I ask you to do everything possible to make the session and to hire ‘em. That would be great. Thank you.”

The governor recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit Michigan National Guard units. He’s made job training and connecting veterans to jobs a part of his workforce development initiative.

user Ed Yourdon / Flikr

This Memorial Day, Michigan Radio spoke with veterans who have served overseas about how today’s veterans might be remembered.

Brandon Van Wagoner of Flint served in the Navy from 2004 to 2008, including two deployments to Iraq.

He thinks it's still too soon to know how his generation of service members will be remembered on Memorial Day.

“I really think the way we're actually going to see the Middle Eastern combatants isn't going to be completely formed or shaped until later on,” he says.

user larrysphatpage / Flikr

This Memorial Day, Michigan Radio spoke with veterans who have served overseas about what the day means to a new generation of service members.

Kelli McKinstry of Flint joined the air force in August of 2001. She served in Iraq, and got out in 2007. Now she’s a student at the University of Michigan, Flint.

“I think people are just adapting to the fact that our generation is now war victims, versus Vietnam,” she says.

user Ed Yourdon / Flikr

This Memorial Day, Michigan Radio spoke with veterans who have recently served overseas about how they observed the holiday.

Jeremy Suckow of Flint served in the Navy for six years. His memorial day looked a lot like everyone else's. For him, the beer and barbecuing is all part of it.

“We did our time and it's no big deal, and then other guys have gone there and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and why not toast to that, celebrate that,” says Suckow.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Many communities across Michigan celebrated Memorial Day with a parade.

(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The federal government this year will observe the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War.

Many Vietnam veterans feel they have been overlooked or disrespected.

A group of Vietnam veterans took part in Memorial Day observances today in Dearborn.   Tony Gramer served in Vietnam in 1968.    He’s glad to see the recognition.

“Better late than never,” says Gramer,  “I think it’s the right thing to do.  I feel that all the veterans deserve it.”

The federal government is asking businesses and other groups to organize events commemorating the Vietnam War for the next 13 years, culminating with the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. 

My guess is that a lot of  people these days are a little shaky about what Memorial Day is all about,  except perhaps in families that have military service in their background.   I think most of us know that it has something to do with honoring the nation’s  war dead. Though I imagine that the numbers of people visiting  cemeteries is probably a pretty small minority. More people decorated veterans’  graves when I was a child.

Jeffs4653 / Flickr

Every Monday, we're checking in with people who are  trying to do what they think is needed to improve life for people in Michigan. This morning we speak with Sean Tracy. He’s a truck driver and World War II buff, and he’s working to show gratitude to the nation’s veterans—especially World War II vets. He builds models of the planes or ships the veterans served on while they were on active duty and gives them as gifts to the vets he finds.

*This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. Add your story here.

U.S. Army

The unemployment rate has been high since the recession hit in 2008, but it's been especially high for young veterans in Michigan. According to the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion in Lansing:

A study conducted by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress reports that nearly 30% of 9/11 era veterans are unemployed in the state of Michigan.  This is nearly 3 times the national average of 11.5%.  The state of Michigan unfortunately tops the list of veterans out of work.

Numbers like these are the reason behind tomorrow's job fair. The Great Lakes Army Recruiting Battalion and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have partnered on the first ever Great Lakes Veterans Job Fair:

The job fair is open to veterans from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm at VFW Post 345, located at 27345 Schoolcraft Rd. in Redford Township.  This job fair is focused on veterans, but no job-seekers will be turned away. For more information on the Veteran’s Job Fair, please call the U.S. Army’s Great Lakes Recruiting Battalion Public Affairs Office at 517-887-5782.

DETROIT (AP) - A Veterans Affairs conference this summer in Detroit is expected to bring $3 million of spending to the area.

The National Veterans Small Business Conference will be held June 25-29 at Cobo Center. Organizers say more than 6,000 veterans, business owners and federal employees are expected to attend.

Nearly 5,000 people attended the conference last year in New Orleans.

Mayor Dave Bing and Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John Gingrich announced the conference  Wednesday. Gingrich says the conference and a hiring fair "will provide veterans with on-the-spot job opportunities and interviews" in the public and private sectors.

A partnership of federal agencies and private industry attracted more than 4,100 veterans and resulted in over 2,600 on-the-spot interviews and more than 500 tentative job offers earlier this month in Washington D.C.

Last week, in my story on veterans and class, I reported on the rate of unemployment for veterans in Michigan. That rate was 13.1 percent last September, and it's likely much higher for Post 9-11 veterans (younger males tend to have higher unemployment rates).

Now, the federal government is stepping in to trying to improve the situation.

Today, President Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, a law that will give companies thousands of dollars in tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans. It also beefs up employment training for veterans.

The Associated Press reports it passed both houses of Congress without a single "no" vote:

The legislation, which creates tax breaks for companies that hire jobless veterans, marks the first proposal from Obama's $447 billion jobs bill to be signed into law. The rest of the package of new taxes and spending has largely failed to garner support from Republican lawmakers.

"Because Democrats and Republicans came together, I'm proud to sign those proposals into law," Obama said during a signing ceremony Monday.

In a statement, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America released a statement praising the bill:

“With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a solid victory for the over 2.3 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families facing the toughest economy in decades. As Congress stalls on so many other issues, it’s good to see them come together in realizing that one of the smartest investments they can make is supporting the New Greatest Generation. While IAVA’s work in fighting veteran unemployment is not done, today is a big step in the right direction.”

According to the White House, the new law will give companies the following tax credits:

  • A "Returning Heroes Tax Credit" of up to $5,600 for businesses that hire veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months
  • A "Wounded Warriors Tax Credit" of up to $9,600 for businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.

Helping fellow veterans

Nov 15, 2011

Many service members face hardships when they return from active duty.  A program at the University of Michigan puts new vets in touch with other veterans to help guide them through the process of returning to everyday life back at home. Brandon Brogan is the program manager of the Buddy-to-Buddy Volunteer Veteran program. As part of our What's Working series, Michigan Radio's Christina Shockley spoke with Brogan.

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