Local officials and veterans advocate in Lansing for county veterans’ services

	 Van Buren County Commissioner  Chairman Richard Godfrey, testified before the state House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday, as a guest of State Rep. Beth Griffin, of Mattawan,  who is the co-sponsor of legislation  that encourages Michigan counties to establish and maintain veteran service offices through a new grant program. Godfrey was joined by, from left, local veterans Bob Adams of Paw Paw, Ken Johnson of Decatur, and Dave Hagen of Gobles.		
	Courier-Leader photo/Paul Garrod

    LANSING - Van Buren County Commissioner  Chairman Richard Godfrey; Ken Johnson, of Decatur, a Marine Corps veteran; Bob Adams, of Paw Paw, an Army veteran and member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Soldiers and Sailors Board; and Dave Hagen, of Gobles, Van Buren County Veterans Outreach Services and an Army veteran, joined State Rep. Beth Griffin, of Mattawan, to testify before the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday in Lansing. The local veterans’ visit to the state capitol was in support of legislation Griffin is co-sponsoring that encourages Michigan counties to establish and maintain veteran service offices through a new grant program.
    Under the measure, each county with a veteran service office that satisfies pre-approved requirements would receive $25,000, plus an additional amount based on the number of veterans in the county. To continue receiving the grant, an established county veteran service office must meet benchmarks for staff performance and reporting while maintain the previous year’s funding level.
    “The counties throughout Michigan with limited veteran services are doing their best to make sure our military heroes are provided with the best services possible,” said Griffin. “However, there are still unmet needs in regard to local veteran services. This extra funding will help close the gap between veterans and their access to local veteran service offices.”
    Depending on the county, a Veteran Service Officer may only be at a single location for a few hours each month. Currently, there are 11 counties in Michigan without a veterans service department. This could be due to partnering with neighboring counties, the number of veterans in the area or lack of funding.
    Johnson talked to the committee about his struggle as a veteran seeking assistance when filing for benefits. Johnson said the lack of communication created a situation where a Veteran Service Officer would tell him to go to the VA, only to have the VA tell him to go to a Veteran Service Officer.
    “This became a vicious  circle  with the VA informing me that I had to see  a local VSO to get my issues  handled. So after multiple  trips to these two locations, along with multiple phone calls, I finally gave up.  I didn’t need or want any additional stress  in my life and  I figured I made it this far,  so why even bother.  Bad decision on my part, because I should have kept trying. I did seriously need help.”
    Johnson said there  were two  options that he could have  taken if he didn’t get the required help that he needed -  getting into trouble with the law, or getting seriously injured or possible death. “Thank God I was fortunate to get into trouble  instead of getting hurt.”
    He added, “Personally,  I feel I  shouldn’t have even had this struggle to begin with  but that is a whole other conversation. Seriously, getting hurt  or into trouble  are my only two options? That  is ridiculous; we can do better than waiting  for something bad to happen  before helping our veterans.”
    Johnson was sentenced to  West Michigan Veterans Treatment Court.
    “After  successfully completing  the program,  I have all  the resources to help me continue  to be where I am today,” said Johnson.
    “Men and women who have served our county so bravely like Ken shouldn’t have to fight again for the services they already earned,” Griffin said. “Talk to any veteran slipping through the cracks and in need of assistance – asking for help is extremely stressful when you receive zero results.”
    House Bill 5536 remains under consideration by the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

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