User: Don Harder / flickr

The controversy over long wait times and improper scheduling practices at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics has cost the job of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

It led to an internal VA audit of its health care facilities.

And that has caused the VA to flag three facilities in Michigan for a closer look.

For this conversation, we asked what might be happening at those facilities, and what this means to veterans in Michigan.

We're joined by Detroit Free Press Washington reporter Todd Spangler and Dr. Joe Schwartz, physician and former Republican Congressman from West Michigan. Dr. Schwartz is now a visiting lecturer at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

*Listen to the full interview above.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed laws waiving fees for Michigan veterans seeking certain job licenses from the state.

Two bills unanimously approved by the Legislature would waive fees for veterans applying for occupational, security and alarm licensing fees if they were honorably discharged.

Snyder says the bills "will help connect our veterans to job opportunities that may have not been available otherwise." Approximately 680,000 veterans live in Michigan.

Luke Hayter / Flickr

All honorably discharged military veterans would be guaranteed in-state tuition at Michigan's public universities and community colleges, under a plan that has cleared the State House.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, says the proposed constitutional amendment would benefit the state economically. He says it would attract veterans and their families to live and work here.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Like a lot of counties in Michigan, Kent County uses money out of its general fund to pay for services for veterans who live there. Right now that amounts to $8 per veteran. As a comparison, Oakland County spends more than three times as much per veteran. Livingston County spends nearly seven times as much.

The Detroit automakers are moving into their fifth year of recovery after the disastrous bottoming-out of 2009 when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. Half a decade later, however, sales are brisk and auto loans are available. But is the future that bright? On today's show: Are there warning signs of another auto downturn? And, if so, what needs to happen to stop it?

Then, what will our rivers and roads look like once spring hits and the snow melts? We spoke with meteorologist Jim Maczko to find out.

Lake Erie is full of blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones, and a new report is asking us to take action. What can be done to improve the health of this lake?

Also, how about adding smell to food advertising? 

First on the show, are Michigan veterans getting what they deserve in terms of benefits and support?

The Veterans' Administration says when it comes to per-capita spending on veterans, Michigan checks in at an average of just over $3,400 per vet. The national average is over $4,800. That places Michigan last in the nation.

What is the state doing about this and to make sure that veterans get all the benefits to which they're entitled?

The director of Michigan's Veterans Affairs Agency, Jeff Barnes, joined us today.

John M. Cropper / Flickr

Are Michigan veterans getting what they deserve in terms of benefits and support?

The Veterans Administration says when it comes to per-capita spending on veterans, Michigan checks in at an average of just over $3,400 per vet. The national average is over $4,800. That places Michigan last in the nation.

What is the state doing about this? And what are they doing to make sure that veterans get all the benefits to which they're entitled?

The director of Michigan's Veterans Affairs Agency, Jeff Barnes, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Rick Lieder

A homeless navy veteran died in Ann Arbor last October.

No family members came forward to claim his body.

So for five months, the veteran’s body lay in the morgue.

Now, finally, thanks to a few friends who refused to give up, Lawrence Tucker’s body was laid to rest last week at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly, Michigan.

John M. Cropper / Flickr

Let's continue our look at military veterans in Michigan. Yesterday on the show, we talked about the disconnect between saying that we want to help veterans and actually putting policy into place that does that.

Today, we turned our focus to mental health.

Data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates about 22 vets a day are committing suicide.

And it's estimated one in five veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are dozens of programs the military has set up to help treat the mental illnesses and troubles vets are suffering.

But a panel of experts studied programs from the U.S. Department of Defense and came to a very unsettling conclusion: There is no evidence these programs actually work.

The report shows the programs were not created from evidence-based research, and do not have an evaluation process to see if they are effective or not.

Kenneth Warner chaired the research panel. He's also in the Department of Health Management and Policy in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

*Listen to the interview above.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There is no shortage of attention showered upon our veterans. A true bipartisan show of support happened during the State of the Union speech, when President Obama singled out wounded Army Ranger Cory Remsburg for a standing ovation.

We stand up to offer ovations, we wave flags, we cheer our vets, but what are we really offering them in terms of support?

When it comes to per-capita spending for veterans, Michigan is last in the nation.

What should we be doing for the 700,000 military veterans who call Michigan home?

Kristin Hass joined us today. She’s the American Culture Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan. And she’s the author of "Sacrificing Soldiers: New War Memorials on the National Mall."

*Listen to our interview above.

Wikimedia Commons

All of Michigan's fifteen public universities are now offering in-state tuition to all veterans, regardless of their legal residence or active duty status.

In the past, this benefit was limited to active duty personnel.

Michael A. Boulus is executive director of the Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan. He said "Our message is that Michigan's public universities are dedicated to supporting our veterans and their families. We value veterans and are committed to helping them get degrees that are vital to their success and the success of the state."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

It’s almost five in the morning. It’s cold and still dark in Kalamazoo. It takes about 45 minutes to load 21 veterans, 15 wheelchairs and 22 helpers onto a charter bus.

A cheery, caffeinated voice comes over the bus’ loudspeaker, “Good morning everybody how are we doing?” Bobbi Bradley is president of “Talons Out” the new honor flight hub based in Kalamazoo. This is the group’s first mission. It had to raise $34,000 to pull it off.

The donations cover the cost of the day trip for all the veterans on board who are well into their 80s. Bradley says the trip isn’t something many of these vets can physically do on their own.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Michigan veterans get little benefits compared to other states

"This Veterans Day, Michigan has the dubious distinction of having its military veterans among those receiving the least government benefits of any in the 50 states. Michigan’s more than 650,000 veterans get about $3,400 on average in benefits. That's compared with a national average of nearly $5,000 a year," Steve Carmody reports.

Click here to see what Michigan lawmakers are doing to help veterans

Senate committee will investigate if teachers are following right to work laws

A new state Senate committee will look at how teacher unions are complying with Michigan’s controversial right-to-work law this week. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

The right-to-work laws prohibit the financial contribution to a union as a condition of employment. . . Democrats and officials with the Michigan Education Association call the committee a politically motivated exercise meant to beat up on unions. . . . The Mackinac Center has filed suit with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission on behalf of eight teachers who say they have been unable to leave their union because they didn’t withdraw in August.

UP could get 6 inches of snow

"A cold weather system is bearing down on Lake Superior. . .  The weather service forecasts some of the heaviest snow near Munising along the Upper Peninsula's Lake Superior shoreline, with about 4 to 6 inches accumulating by Monday afternoon. One to 3 inches could fall in parts of northern Lower Michigan," the Associated Press reports.

Video: homeless Michigan veteran gets a makeover

Nov 10, 2013

This video chronicling the makeover of a Michigan homeless veteran has been viewed millions of times online.

The nearly three-minute video featuring Jim Wolf of Grand Rapids has gotten more than 5 million clicks on YouTube as of Saturday.

The time-lapse video was produced by community event organizer Rob Bliss with support from a nonprofit group helping homeless veterans.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

This Veterans Day, Michigan has the dubious distinction of having its military veterans among those receiving the least government benefits of any in the 50 states.

Michigan’s more than 650 thousand veterans get about $3,400 on average in benefits compared with a national average of nearly five thousand dollars a year.   

courtesy Tim Fazio

The Department of Veteran Affairs may be overprescribing opiates to veterans — and in some cases, prescribing to those with known opiate addictions.

An investigative report from PRX and the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that the VA agency “has issued more than one opiate prescription per patient, on average, for the past two years.”

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.

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.

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

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.

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.