Government

Kent County to consider veterans’ services millage

Other counties spend more than Kent, which has the fourth-largest number of veterans.

May 16, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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The Kent County Board of Commissioners Millage Subcommittee has sent a proposal for a dedicated county millage for veterans’ services to the county Finance and Physical Resources Committee, which meets this week.

The Millage Subcommittee unanimously endorsed the proposal for a ballot question in November that, if passed, would add 0.05 mills to the county tax bill. It is estimated to generate slightly more than $1 million, which would be dedicated to increased outreach and emergency services for veterans, and more than double the hours available from the county for assisting veterans with their federal benefits claims.

Paul Potter, chair of the Kent County’s volunteer Veterans Affairs Committee and a Vietnam vet, said the 0.05 millage would cost the average homeowner about $6 a year for a term of eight years.

Potter said the dedicated revenue would be used to double the staff of the Kent County Department of Veterans Affairs, which now has 2.5 employees and receives an allocation of $300,000 a year from the county general budget. It was established in 2008.

“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.

“And Michigan continually ranks near dead last in the states and U.S. territories,” added Potter. “This proposal will start to assist us in closing these gaps.”

According to a Millage Subcommittee news release, Kent County spends $8 per veteran, while its next-closest peer, Oakland County, spends more than three times that at $27, and Livingston County spends almost eight times as much at $55 per veteran. If the dedicated millage were passed, Kent County would spend approximately $36 per veteran.

The millage would generate slightly more than $1 million for increased outreach and emergency services for veterans and their families, and more than double the assistance the county now provides to veterans who need help filling out their VA claims forms.

Potter said the proposed emergency services are not social services but funds to help Kent County veterans who are facing eviction from their homes or have had their utilities shut off, or lack money to buy sufficient food for them and their families.

However, he stressed that outreach “is really key,” because many veterans do not seek help from the federal government for a variety of reasons. Some don’t trust the government, he said, while some don’t realize they qualify for help, or think their service was too long ago to still count, or don’t want to accept help they think might otherwise go to veterans they consider more deserving.

Potter said 22 veterans commit suicide in the U.S. every day.

“Identifying these folks and getting them the services they need is really important,” he said.

In Kent County, there are an estimated 43,600 “known” veterans, said Potter, but “that may be one out of five. There could easily be 200,000 veterans in Kent County.”

Federal funds set aside in Washington for the nation’s military veterans is “sitting there,” said Potter. “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 county’s Millage Subcommittee members are Dick VanderMolen, chair, and Dave Bulkowski, Roger Morgan, Shana Shroll and Ted Vonk.

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