Jason Zielke Sr., 47, a national service officer with the Disabled American Veterans organization was heading to White Lake Township last July with his one-year-old son in the car.
“Although it was perfectly clear and sunny on I-696, I looked up at the dark sky towards White Lake and said it didn’t look good at all,” Zielke said.
“Suddenly there was this wall of rain like someone was throwing buckets of water on my windshield and hood. It was really windy. I called my daughter who was at home and told him to go down to the basement. It was nerve-wracking with my son in the car,” he said.
It was all part of a storm system that brought a tornado to Armada and caused massive damage.
“I heard it hit both White Lake Township and the Armada, so when I got to work on Monday I contacted the White Lake and Armada clerks and I I said if any veterans were concerned they should contact me,” he said. .
He contacted county clerks in the two tornado-hit counties and let them know that veterans in need could get financial assistance through DAV’s Disaster Relief Fund.
An Armada Air Force veteran was indeed hit by the tornado.
“The Armada County Clerk gave him my number,” Zielke said. “I asked him what happened and he said the tornado hit his house. I had him fill out an application so we could take action.
The DAV was able to get the veteran $1,000 within days.
“He had insurance that put him in a hotel, and probably money for petrol so he could drive back and forth to look after his farm animals. But his house was not cleaned for security reasons so he could get their clothes. So he had the extra money to be able to buy clothes and food while he waited for the insurance money to come in,” Zielke said.
The vet and his family live on 10 acres near Armada with dogs, chickens, rabbits and turkeys, according to the DAV. No family members or animals were injured, but their home, barn and vehicles were damaged and the family temporarily took refuge in a trailer. He used some of the money to pay for the $30-40 a day he was spending on generator fuel and a deposit for a temporary house.
One-time DAV grants can be up to $1,000, depending on the situation. Veterans can use the money for anything they need.
In 2021, DAV issued more than 1,300 disaster relief drafts totaling more than $865,500 to recipients in at least 13 states and territories. DAV volunteers and employees also distributed more than 3,000 comfort and hygiene kits to disaster-affected people.
Zielke is a U.S. Army veteran who was injured while serving in Germany in the mid-1990s.
He submitted his own claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs for head injuries, migraine headaches, an abscess and scarring pain.
“I was in a work-study program and a DAV duty officer offered me this job to help other veterans and I said I would do it. I’ve been doing it for 11 years,” Zielke said. “It’s not a nine-to-five job for me, it’s a 24/7.”
“I’m always promoting DAV or trying to help someone,” he said.
In the case of a widow who was a caretaker, her husband had died of cancer, and Zielke helped her set up a monthly payment for herself.
“Her car was a junk pile and she was able to buy a decent car and travel out west to see her sons. This income has changed her life. She was able to retire and enjoy her life. It made me makes me feel really good. It feels good to go to work. I never feel like work gets stressful, but I know it’s not really a job, it’s like a vocation,” did he declare.
A veteran came to the DAV after being released from prison. Due to post-traumatic stress, he got into trouble after being fired from the service. The DAV was able to point out to the VA certain facts and documents on the initial claim. As a result, he was granted 100% disability and thousands of dollars in return compensation from the date he filed his claim, pending appeals.
“This guy had worn and dirty clothes when he arrived. That’s all he had. One day he came in with new clothes, put a set of keys on the desk and asked me if I knew what it was. He said those were the keys to the first car he owned,” Zielke said.
“We defenders are paid directly by DAV National. It’s part of the reason people give. We don’t charge the veteran anything,” Zielke said, comparing the work of the DAV with attorneys who can take 20 or 30 percent of a veteran’s settlement.
“We are on Capitol Hill and here in Michigan every day standing up for veterans,” he said.
Since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990–1991), burn pits have been used in the Middle East and elsewhere. Approximately 3.5 million veterans serving near burning fires were exposed to airborne toxins from burnt wastes such as plastic, metal, rubber, chemicals, petroleum products and lubricants, ammunition and other unexploded ordnance, medical and human wastes and by-products of incomplete combustion.
The VA has adjudicated only about 13,000 direct service connection claims for illnesses related to burn pit exposure. About 78% of these claims were denied and only three suspected illnesses were approved – for sinusitis, rhinitis and asthma. DAV supports legislation to help more veterans prove their exposure.
It took more than 50 years for the VA to recognize mustard gas exposures and suspected illnesses in World War I veterans, more than 40 years for radiation exposures and suspected illnesses in veterans of the World War II, and decades for exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Vets are still struggling to get compensation for exposure to enriched uranium and soil saturated with fuels and other solvents in Karshi-Khanabad 20 years ago.
DAV is concerned for veterans who may have been exposed to toxic substances at Fort McClellan, PFAS-contaminated water found at more than 600 military installations, contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, and water contamination by Red Hill Fuel Tank Farm in Hawaii.
Zielke would like to see a law extended to the widows of veterans who died on active duty to receive an exemption from their property taxes. Currently, veterans who have a 100% disability rating have a property tax exemption.
DAV recently acquired Patriot Boot Camp, a charity that helps veterans, service members and spouses become creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, expanding opportunities for disabled veterans and their small businesses.
DAV Chapter 119 meets the third Thursday of the month in Room 2733 of the Lakeshore Knights of Columbus Council, 25003 Little Mack Ave., St. Clair Shores. The chapter is planning a forget-me-not cartridge collection from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 14-15 at the Kroger store at 20891 E. 13 Mile Road, Roseville, and May 21-23 at the Kroger store at 22801 Harper Ave., St Claire Shores .
“We support the Vets Returning Home shelter and have vets installed. We do a lot with the little money we have,” said Allen Houth, member and DAV duty officer.
Honorably discharged veterans can join the DAV. Contact Houth at 586-218-9432.
Vets get free rides to and from Detroit VA hospital
DAV operates a fleet of volunteer-driven vehicles that provide free transportation to approximately 160 VA medical facilities nationwide. Since the program’s inception in 1987, DAV departments (usually state) and chapters have donated 3,618 vehicles, and Ford Motor Company has donated 248 vehicles at a cost of nearly $91 million. Call 313-576-3508 about VAD transportation to the VA Medical Center in Detroit.
Macomb County Veteran Services at 586-469-5315 offers shuttle service from designated pickup locations to VAMC Detroit. The shuttle begins pick up at 7:00 am and goes to each of the pick up points. To be eligible for the service, the passenger must have a confirmed morning appointment and must schedule the ride at least two days prior to the appointment. Riders stay at the VA until the rider’s last scheduled appointment is completed.
County pick-up locations are: Veterans of Foreign Wars Old Settlers Post 4659, 8311 Wilson Drive, Shelby Township; Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154, 18025 15 Mile Road, Clinton Township; Homecoming Veterans, 17955 11 Mile Road, Roseville; Salvation Army, 42590 Stepnitz Drive, Clinton Township; and the VerKuilen Building, 21885 Dunham Road, Clinton Township.
Send news from service clubs and veterans organizations to Linda May at [email protected] or call the landline 586-791-8116.