Jim Alton’s September Veterans Affairs column: Supporting veterans and their families in a variety of ways

Emmet Realtors group raises funds for local vets

The Emmet Association of Realtors is kicking off its annual “11-11” campaign on Sept. 11, which culminates with a large donation each year to the Emmet County Veteran’s Affairs office on Nov. 11. Realtors, their affiliates and members of the public are asked to donate $11 during the campaign, which organizer Roxie Beach says is an affordable way for people to show their appreciation to the men and women who have served our country.

One hundred percent of the funds raised are used to help Emmet County veterans with needs that may not be covered by VA benefits. Some examples have included emergency gas and food cards, utility shut-offs, doctor and dental visits and more.

Checks should be made payable to the Emmet County Veterans and can be mailed to 616 Petoskey St., Suite 200, Petoskey, MI  49770, or call (231) 347-0700 to arrange pick up.

The Emmet County VA office is grateful for the support of the Realtors’ association!

Free flu shots for veterans

From now through March 31, 2017, all veterans enrolled in the VA health care system can receive free flu shots at any Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacy. Veterans must bring their VA identification cards with them, as well as another photo ID, and complete a short four-question application, which will be used to automatically update their VA Electronic Health Records. No appointments are necessary.

VA to launch service animal pilot program

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced recently the creation of the first program specifically for veterans suffering with their mental health who may be eligible for a service dog. The pilot, created by the new VA Center for Compassionate Intervention, foresees being able to enroll up to 100 veterans. Individuals selected for the new program will be chosen based on their medical team’s belief that the veteran’s daily life would be improved by having a service dog.

Veterans interested in the program are encouraged to talk to their health care provider or medical team. For more information, please visit: www.militarytimes.com/articles/va-pilot-to-cover-service-dogs-for-mental-health-conditions.

VA awards $300 million more in grants to help end veteran homelessness

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awarded approximately $300 million more in grants under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to help thousands of very low-income veteran families around the nation who are permanently housed or transitioning to permanent housing. The SSVF grant program provides access to crucial services to prevent homelessness for veterans and their families.

Suicide and veterans

An in-depth report from July 2016 showed that a full 70 percent of veterans who commit suicide are not receiving VA health care.

It is extremely important that VA is fully funded in order to continue its specialized physical and mental health care services, and fix the access to care issues. Time and time again it is proven that veterans have better health outcomes once they are reliably able to be seen at VA.

Please tell your members of Congress that when they get back from their summer break next week, they need to get to work and pass VA’s full fiscal year 2017 budget. Veterans should not needlessly suffer at the hands of people playing politics.

Great news: AAFES and Military Exchanges will allow veterans to shop online in 2017
The Defense Department’s Executive Resale Board voted to recommend allowing online access to honorably-discharged military veterans. This is expected to be rolled out in late 2017, pending final approval.
This is a big change from the current system, which is only open to active duty, Guard/Reserve, retirees, family members, and a few select others. (Note: this only applies to the online stores, as it would be impossible to open military gates to 19 million veterans!)
This proposal, which looks like it will pass, is a win-win for everyone. Veterans gain access to savings on a variety of products through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES), and military officials estimate this will generate upward of $100 million for base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. Increased sales could also allow AAFES to negotiate discounts on larger, bulk orders of goods. More to come as I get additional information.

Exposure to Chemical Warfare Agents
Service members who handled or demolished explosive ordnances during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) may have been exposed to toxic chemical warfare agents (CWAs), such as mustard agents or sarin, and may experience related health effects. If you think you have been exposed, or want more information on any of the listed articles, please call our office.

“Help a friend, help a stranger, some day you may need help, it’s just the right thing to do!“ 

Semper Fi and thank you, as always, for your support of American veterans.

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 jalton@emmetcounty.org


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Emmet County, Michigan
200 Division Street, Petoskey MI 49770
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