Editorial

Businesses bear shame for veterans’ unemployment rate

May 16, 2014
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Memorial Day was created as a time of somber reflection and remembrance of the men and women who have died while in military service to this country. It should mark more than lip service, and its reflection should give business owners and area government officials a call to action.

Military veterans remain among the groups with the highest unemployment rate, and that is a shame for business leaders to carry, even while a few metro area businesses lend focus to this troubling matter.

A tremendous amount of information is available in regard to transferrable skills, and Gov. Rick Snyder has emphasized in programs and speeches the importance of honoring Michigan’s veterans with actions. Snyder created a targeted outreach and performance management group within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Snyder’s appointed director, Nicholas Cook, told the Business Journal the counties of Muskegon, Ottawa, Ionia and Montcalm do not even have offices for services to veterans. That must change. In late 2013, Michigan counted more than 650,000 military veterans and is ranked 11thfor largest population of veterans in the country. On a per-capita basis, however, Michigan veterans rank last as recipients of federal benefits.

Kent County opened its Veterans Affairs Division in 2009. Last year a Kent County Board of Commissioners subcommittee reported 34,938 veterans living in Kent County in 2011, while at the same time the county’s Department of Veterans Affairs had only 2.5 service officers on staff.

It is estimated that the number of veterans in Kent County now could be as many as 200,000. That is a startling tribute to this region for the men and women who answer the call to service to this country. Even at lower estimates, each service officer is responsible for meeting the needs of 13,975 military vets — the worst officer-to-client ratio among counties in Michigan.

Last week, the subcommittee recommended the county consider putting a millage request before voters next year to provide a constant source of revenue for veterans in need. The report also found the county will spend only $8 on each veteran this year, the lowest amount statewide. The 2013 report revealed that much-smaller Livingston County spent $690,933 in 2013 on its 12,534 veterans, or $55 per vet. Livingston County has a population of 182,000.

Paul Potter, county volunteer Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, told commissioners last week: “We all know the facts: Kent County has the fourth-largest veterans’ population of any county in Michigan, yet we are 50th of 83 counties” in the amount of VA Administration funds spent on Michigan residents.

Potter stressed the importance of outreach, saying some veterans don’t trust the government, some don’t realize they qualify for help, or think their service was too long ago to count, or don’t want to accept help they think might otherwise go to veterans they consider more deserving.

Potter noted, “If we can get a veteran to file his claim and it’s approved … for (treatment of) Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress — whatever the issue is, they get that money the rest of their life, and it just comes from the federal government right into the veteran’s pocket. So it’s a great economic tool in that respect for the county, and it helps the veteran, as well.”

The Business Journal concurs, and urges action in Ottawa, Muskegon, Ionia and Montcalm counties. Business owners, too, must be more proactive in hiring those who have given so much to this country.

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