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.

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.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Democrats in the Michigan House are promoting legislation they say is designed to help small businesses hire more workers.

One measure detailed by Democrats on Monday would provide tax credits of up to $4,000 per person for small businesses that hire unemployed workers. The tax credits would be largest for hiring military veterans who have been jobless for a long time.

Other bills are aimed at developing a pool of money to loan to small businesses. The money would come through investments of a small percentage of state trust funds with Michigan credit unions and community banks, which in turn would make loans available to small businesses.

Democrats are in the minority in the House. The legislation could face an uphill climb to gain traction in the Republican-led chamber.

A housing complex for homeless veterans officially opened its doors in Detroit on Veterans Day.

It will serve as a transitional housing program where veterans can stay for up to two years. It can house as many as 60 people at a time.

Sharon Dade is the director of social services for Volunteers of America, the non-profit group that owns and operates the Detroit shelter.

She says they’ll work with the Veteran’s Administration to serve every qualified person—whether they’ve just returned from conflict, or have struggled for years.

Britain's Channel 4 News / screenshot

Earlier today I posted the stories of two young veterans who had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Multiple tours overseas is common in today's military. Re-enlistments helped keep these wars supplied with soldiers over the last ten years.

The problem, as Bernard Rostker of the Rand Corporation put it, "the more you go the more you’re exposed, the more likely you will eventually have some adverse psychological reactions."

Rostker is a former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and a former senior policy advisor on recruitment for the Secretary of Defense.

He said the propensity to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is cumulative. And with soldiers serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're more at risk than a soldier serving a single tour.

PTSD can show up much later in life.

"This is going to be a huge concern for the military," said Rostker.

"Rand did a study, it was a random telephone interview of large numbers of vets using screening techniques for PTSD, and came to the conclusion that there was a huge number of unreported cases. It was controversial with the Department of Defense who looked at the number of people being treated versus those identified with PTSD and noticed lots were going untreated," said Rostker.

In 2010, Britain's Channel 4 News did an excellent piece on the challenges facing today's military.

You can view it here:


Bernard Rostker said the military has come a long way in its understanding of the psychological effects of war.

"We’re much more aware of it today, but it’s still the unfinished business of this war," said Rostker.


The "Quicken Loans Carrier Classic" will be played on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson stationed in San Diego in honor of Veteran's Day (the nuclear powered carrier is famed for being the ship from which Osama bin Laden's body was buried at sea).

Michigan State University will play North Carolina in an NCAA Division 1 basketball game to be broadcast on ESPN starting at 7 p.m.

President Barack Obama will attend "the first ever aircraft carrier to host a Division 1 college basketball game."

MSU Coach Tom Izzo's reaction to the game was captured in this ESPN blog post - they quoted Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis:

“I saw him tear up today,’’ Hollis said of Izzo’s emotions when he boarded the USS Carl Vinson on Thursday. “He was emotional. He lives for these kinds of things. The Final Four is special, but this will rank up there in his mind.’’

It already has -- and the tipoff hasn’t even occurred yet.

“My first impression far superseded what I thought it could be about seven or eight years ago when we tried to get this thing together,’’ Izzo said. “At first we were going to play two military schools. But if you could have seen our players’ eyes. There was such an appreciation for what we’re doing. It’s bigger than the game. It’s bigger than North Carolina or Michigan State. It’s a dream come true for us.’’

Here's a video of the MSU team's shoot around:

Morse/Brush / U.S. Army/Michigan Radio

There are close to 22 million veterans in the U.S., and around 1.7 million of them are less than 35 years old.

These young veterans volunteered for the military. And their reasons for joining depended on any number of things: a personal sense of duty to serve their country; following in a family member's footsteps; joining up with trusted friends; a chance to see the world; or a shot at a better life.

Whatever the reason, there's no doubt about the sacrifices these service members and their families have made.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely been sustained by multiple deployments from military personal, long tours, and shorter times between deployments. And the more deployments, the higher the risk.

Bernard Rostker is a Senior Fellow at the Rand Corporation and author of a book on the all-volunteer military. He said that over the last ten years, researchers were surprised by the number of people re-enlisting.

"This war was sustained not by recruiting, but by re-enlistments, and that surprised a lot of us who had been in the business a long time. The notion that a career military force would go to war and that they would then re-up at much higher rates, and that’s what we saw," said Rostker.

"Units that had re-enlistment goals, were achieving 125% of their re-enlistment goal," he said.

When I asked him why so many people re-upped, Rostker said it had a lot to do with today's military being a professional force.

"They had joined the military, because they wanted to join the military, and they were doing what they had been trained to do," said Rostker. "They were not just sitting around at garrison, they were out eagerly involved."

If you ask Captain Brandon Petrick and Staff Sergeant Vic Anthony Sasota at the Army's Great Lakes Battalion Lansing Company recruiting office, they likely would agree with Rostker.

They both served multiple tours in these wars.

You can hear part of my conversation with them (edited for radio) above.

Michigan’s Attorney General is appealing a ruling that prevents the privatization of nursing assistants as a state-run home for veterans.

The Grand Rapids Home for Veterans is one of two state-run hospitals (the other, much smaller one, is in Marquette) for veterans in Michigan. More than 700 veterans are housed there.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A judge has barred the state of Michigan from giving more work to a private contractor at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.

The injunction also prevents the layoff of state employees who are health-care aides. Gov. Rick Snyder wants to privatize certain services to save money, but critics say the plan could harm residents.

Ingham County Judge Paula Manderfield signed the order Friday, saying the injunction is in the "public interest." WOOD-TV reports the attorney general's office plans to appeal.

The home has 758 beds for veterans and many of its workers are represented by a union. A doctor last week testified that an abrupt change in personnel would affect the physical and mental health of residents.

user anonymonous / Flickr

DETROIT (AP) - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is giving $1.59 million for programs helping homeless Michigan veterans and their families.

Department Secretary Eric Shinseki said Tuesday that two Michigan nonprofit agencies will help about 545 homeless veteran families.

The program is called Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and the nationwide initiative is awarding about $60 million to 85 agencies in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

The government is giving $999,559 to Southwest Counseling Solutions in Detroit and $590,928 to the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency in Wyandotte.

Under the program, the agencies will be able to provide a range of services to eligible very low-income veterans and their families. That can include some financial aid for rent, utilities, deposits and moving costs.

Officials with AARP Michigan are expecting to get a lot of telephone calls from concerned senior citizens, now with the president saying that their August Social Security checks might be delayed by federal budget talks. President Obama says without a budget deal the government may not send out social security, veterans and disability checks early next month.

Mark Hornbeck is the associate state director of AARP Michigan.    He says that could affect nearly 2 million Michiganders.

VFW Hall in Hoquiam, WA
Joe Mabel / Creative Commons

It's Veterans Day and there are a many articles around the state about those who have made significant sacrifices for our country. Men and women who fought in wars for the U.S. Here's a snapshot of the articles this morning: