Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency Answering Call To Help Transition Returning Soldiers

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mike Gallagher
CMF Editorial Corespondent

The fledgling Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) is wasting no time in creating new and dynamic programs and initiatives to help the state’s military men and women transition to the civilian workforce while also streamlining their access to state and federal benefits due them.

These efforts – either currently online or about to launch – cut across several key areas including employment, education, healthcare and quality of life.

Leading this vigorous and creative commitment to increased and more robust veterans’ services is agency Director Jeff Barnes, the man Governor Rick Snyder says is well-positioned with the requisite insight and skill set to connect military talent with civilian job opportunities, ensure access to quality educational programs and grow MVAA’s informational web portal.

Among the many key partners that have provided financial, educational and technical support – and will be instrumental in moving these Michigan’s veterans’ efforts forward in the future – are Michigan foundations and the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL), says Barnes.

“I can’t say enough about all the tremendous work, commitment and support that foundation leaders and the OFL have provided to help us prepare to transition the growing number of military personnel from Michigan back to the civilian workforce and our communities,” notes Barnes.

Barnes says he anticipates more than 10,000 servicemen and women will exit the military and return to Michigan annually for the next five years or longer. It is estimated there about 680,000 veterans in Michigan today.

“That’s like adding the graduating class from another major university into our talent pool each year for the next five years,” says Barnes. “The leadership, experience and technical skills these men and women bring home with them create tremendous opportunities for employers and our state. Our job is to make that transition as smooth and seamless as possible.”

Some of the MVAA’s recent successes include:

  • Licensing and credentialing reforms making it easier for veterans to apply their military skills to civilian jobs, starting with occupations like EMT, firefighter, boiler operator and others, with additional licensing and credentialing reforms coming throughout this year.
  • MVAA’s web portal serving as a one-stop shop where veterans and family members can learn about benefits and resources.
  • MVAA’s new service delivery model with the Michigan Veterans Coalition putting more service officers in more places throughout the state and increasing the number of hours they are available making it easier for veterans to claim the benefits they have earned through their service.

In the education field, MVAA is in a beginning partnership with the Consortium of Michigan Veteran Educators that has a goal to increase the number of service members, and their families, who take advantage of the educational benefits that are available to them such as the G.I. Bill. The joint effort also is working to provide veterans college-level course credit for their military training and experience.

Chera D. Reid, program officer-education for The Kresge Foundation – a long-time advocate and grantor helping to support a wide array of veteran initiatives nationally – says her organization is currently looking at a potential opportunity to fund proposed projects by the Consortium of Michigan Veteran Educators.

“One national grant Kresge awarded, for example, was to Student Veterans of America which has impacted Michigan,” says Reid. “That work went to support a database and research project to study student veterans using the GI Bill after 9/11.”

Other MVAA efforts – promoting healthcare, for example – has the agency helping pilot a program to increase veteran access to mental health services.

“We also are focusing on various veteran homelessness initiatives and providing adaptive recreation opportunities for them,” he adds.

MVAA also is increasing its focus on providing specialty services for Michigan veterans who are dealing with such problems as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

With the anticipated growth in the number of Michigan veterans over the next five years, several foundations have provided grants to help support their returning heroes in a number of ways.

For example, J.P. Morgan Chase recently pledged to invest $20 million over a five-year span to support veterans and their families, according to Tosha Tabron, J.P. Morgan’s vice president, relationship manager-Global Philanthropy in Detroit, and Peter Scher, head of Corporate Responsibility.

Following up on its successful support of veteran-related services and initiatives in 2011 with $500,000 in grants and production donations, the Masco Corporation Foundation partnered with Masco Corp., and launched an even bigger initiative in 2013 called “American’s Heroes: A Million Thanks”.

In 2014 the Masco team completed funding approximately $1.3 million in donations to help provide veterans affordable and physically accessible housing; education, job training and employment initiatives; and related military support services (e.g., overseas support packages, benefit procurement, health care, reintegration activities, etc.)

And in March, the Detroit-based General Motors Foundation donated more than $1.45 million to Habitat for Humanity to build homes across the country, with a special emphasis on a program to provide homes to veterans.

“An important factor in building stronger families and communities is the stability of a permanent home,” said GM Foundation President Vivian Pickard. “This constancy is particularly important for our veterans and military service members and we are committed to helping them.”

Barnes says foundation support has been - and is - essential to helping his agency, and the state, make the transition from military service to civilian life easier for Michigan’s veterans.

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