Veteran services

WITH VIDEOS: Veterans services available, despite shortages, but vets must ask | News, Sports, Jobs

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Robert Hunt, Commanding Officer of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2356 in Hillman, speaks at the post on Monday.

ALPENA — Struggling with needs ranging from health crises to utility shutdown notices, Northeast Michigan’s aging military population can find help from local veterans’ offices and vet groups — if only they accept this help, according to officials.

Military veterans make up a large part of the Northeast Michigan community, with one in 10 residents having served in the U.S. military, twice the state’s population share, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. .

But, with 10% of the region’s veterans living in poverty, two out of three aged 65 or older, and a service-related disability rate higher than the statewide rate, veterans of the Northeast Michigan increasingly rely on defenders to connect them to local and state resources. .

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Local veterans services agencies could use more volunteers, more space and more money to help veterans, officials say.

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Robert Hunt, Commanding Officer of Hillman Veterans of Foreign Wars Station 2356, poses at the station on Monday.

But, more than anything, they need more veterans willing to speak up when they’re in trouble.

“Unless they walk through the door, we don’t know where they are or who they are,” said Bill Stypick, assistant veteran services officer for Alpena County. “Come in and talk. There are many possibilities.

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Advocates say veterans are reluctant to seek help because they don’t know they qualify or don’t feel comfortable asking for help.

Only one-third of Alcona County veterans seek the services of county Veterans Services offices.

It is the same thing in the riding of Montmorency.

In Alpena County, about a quarter of veterans use county office services, Stypick said — and he’s concerned about that number.

In Alpena County, 14 percent of veterans live in poverty, twice the state and national rate, according to the US Census Bureau. About 5% of veterans in both Près Isle and Montmorency counties live below the poverty line, slightly more in Alcona County.

With so many veterans in financial difficulty, Veterans Services offices provide crucial links to everything from pensions for veterans or their surviving spouses to heating assistance for home heating costs or even replacement of furnaces, depending on the veteran’s income. Veterans Affairs also covers car repairs, home repairs and utility bills, if veterans qualify.

The more than 6,000 veterans who call northeast Michigan home can also find help accessing home care, physical therapy, mental health screening, lab services, prescriptions, and medical supplies. Other health care needs through local veterans offices, according to Dan Perge, veterans service. Alpena County officer.

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But whether they’re bothered by pride or the belief that they’re ineligible, veterans don’t always seek health services, Perge said, though nearly two veterans in northeastern Michigan in five report service-related disability, higher than national and state. rate of about 30%.

In Montmorency County, nearly half of veterans report a disability, according to the US Census Bureau.

The Alpena VA Clinic, which serves veterans throughout northeast Michigan, offers basic care such as visits to a general practitioner, blood work, rehabilitation services, and hearing tests.

When veterans need more care than they can find at Alpena, Veterans Services Officers coordinate transportation to the nearest VA hospital in Saginaw and to several lower-end medical centers. the state — a difficult task, especially when volunteer drivers are hard to come by, Stypick said.

The state Veterans Administration currently offers medical walks for veterans along the I-75 corridor. The VA hopes to expand those services to the east side of the state, but that help is years away, according to Stypick.

A bill recently introduced by U.S. Representative Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, would boost access to telehealth for veterans, which Bergman called critical in rural areas like northeast Michigan.

Historically, veterans have struggled to ask for help, said Stypick, who himself served in the military for 20 years.

“It’s part of your training,” he said. “Shut up, hold back, do your job.”

Such stoicism need not be perpetuated in civilian life, he said.

“Come in,” he said. “Sit down and talk and tell us a story, and we’ll see what we can do for you.”

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Local Veterans Services offices face some unique challenges, including limited staff and space.

In his small Alcona County Courthouse office, for example, Alcona County Veterans Services Officer Tony Atkinson finds little room to talk to veterans privately and has few staff to to help care for the county’s 1,325 veterans.

If the county were to hire more employees, “we have nowhere to put them,” he said.

The county is looking for a bigger space for Atkinson’s office, and the tax money will make that possible soon, he hopes.

In Montmorency County, Mike Burzynski is the only Veterans Affairs employee.

When he takes veterans to medical appointments out of town, his office is empty, with no one left to help others, he said.

Montmorency County funds its support for veterans with a $51,400 grant from the Michigan Veterans Agency. The county council plans to levy a $0.1 million property tax — about $5 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home — that could generate about $50,000 a year for Burzynski’s office.

Residents of Alpena County pay a 0.21 mill property tax — about $10.50 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home — which brings in about $190,200 each year. This mileage expires next year.

Almost Isle County receives about $18,000 a year from a thousand veterans. Residents of Alcona County are contributing approximately $155,300 through a mile for veteran support.


Organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars offer another form of support for veterans, Robert Hunt, commander of VFW Post 2356 told Hillman.

But, busy with jobs and families, young veterans rarely join the VFW, Hunt said.

“I think they’re just as patriotic as they always have been,” Hunt said. “But one of the problems, I think, was that in my day, one income could support a family. Now it takes two incomes to even support them.

According to census data, less than 20% of veterans in northeast Michigan are under the age of 55.

The VFW only accepts veterans, but Hunt hopes that will change. For every serviceman in combat overseas, nine servicemen or servicewomen serve in the United States, Hunt said, and “without those nine, there wouldn’t be one on the front lines.”

The VFW’s main goal is to “take care of our veterans in the community and help anyone who needs help,” he said.

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