An update on your Emmet County VA office: $14.9 million to local veterans
Every year since 2006, the Emmet County Veterans Affairs office has increased the amount of various benefits paid to veterans and their families. In 2005, the VA was paying approximately $2 million to our local veterans; today the number is an impressive $14.89 million in compensation and pensions, education and medical care benefits.
We have 2,743 veterans enjoying these benefits, though we lost 63 veterans since 2014. These figures do not reflect what our veterans received from the local Soldier/Sailors fund, as well as the Michigan Trust Fund for emergencies that arise throughout the year.
Financial benefits are only a part of our service to our veterans. We were the first County office in the state to introduce a Veterans ID card, and the only county that I know of that publishes a monthly veterans-specific news release. We have had cars donated that we have had serviced and given free of charge to needy vets, along with a loaner program of electric mobile chairs and other medical devices. We also transport veterans who are unable to make medical appoints to VA facilities due to their lack of transportation or because of their age. We continue to strive to enroll our veterans in area programs that they may benefit from as well.
We would welcome your input and ideas that may be of benefit to our veterans. And to our veterans, if you have not been in our office, I would strongly suggest that you stop in with a copy of your discharge papers (DD214), to say hello, grab a coffee and let us see if you may have some benefits coming that may not have been brought to your attention.
Emmet County Veterans Affairs office: 3434 M-119, Suite D, Harbor Springs (located in the John Watson Community Resource Center, near the Health Department and County Planning and Zoning).
Navy vets: Update on Agent Orange claims
Veterans who served on Navy ships off Vietnam and have diseases linked to Agent Orange were buoyed recently by House passage of a measure that could expand their Veterans Affairs benefits.
An amendment added to the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill would require the department to presume these veterans were exposed to the toxic herbicide and provide health care and compensation if they are sick as a result.
The initiative still must pass the Senate before it becomes law, but it marks a major step forward for a cause that has languished in Congress and at the VA for years.
The VA already has presumed that sailors and Marines who served on ships on inland waterways in Vietnam faced the same risks as those who served on the ground and provide them benefits if they have one of several diseases linked to herbicide exposure, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy.
Contact our office as we have a list of the ships in question; (231) 348-1780. Also, it’s a good idea to contact your Senator and ask him or her to back this bill!
‘The VA failure’ from Military.com
Two years ago, Americans were horrified to learn that as many as 1,000 of our nation’s veterans had died while waiting for medical care at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. Any hopes of reforming the dysfunctional VA culture were dashed recently when Secretary Robert McDonald made an appalling comparison to waiting in line at Disney parks: “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience.”
Today, nearly half a million veterans still wait to see a VA doctor.
Republicans said McDonald’s comments were especially egregious since he took office in 2014 after his predecessor was forced out amid a scandal over chronically long wait times at VA health care sites and reports that as many as 40 patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital. Similar problems were discovered at VA health sites nationwide, along with a widespread practice among VA employees of creating secret lists to cover up the long wait times and receive VA bonuses.
The web site www.military.com recently issued a report on some budget items within the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. Here’s a sample of what they found:
The VA spent $1.7 million on “employee engagement” and other satisfaction surveys with Gallup (2010-2014).
The VA paid $303 million in salaries to non-essential positions: Painters ($185 million), interior designers ($64 million), and gardeners ($54 million). While veterans were dying, the VA managers were rewarding the efficiency of these positions with bonuses (2012-15.)
$751.1 million was spent on “household” and “office furniture” including furniture rental, draperies, curtains, carpeting, modification, repair and maintenance (2010-2015).
Our veterans deserve better. Semper fi.
Jim Alton is the Director of the Veterans Affairs Department within Emmet County. Alton served in the United States Marine Corps (1955-62) and is retired from the Michigan State Police. Reach him or his assistant, Rick Wiertalla, at (231) 348-1780 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
His column appears each month on topics of interest to veterans and their families. Read Alton’s past columns by clicking here.