State Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, and state Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, are two Iraq War veterans who were “heartbroken and outraged” when a recent audit revealed the poor quality of care being given to military veterans at a state facility.
Barrett and Knezek decided to fight for the veterans.
A recent audit of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans revealed the state facility was understaffed, that the workers were mishandling complaints of abuse and neglect, and that they were not conducting mandated safety checks.
In a conversation with Stateside, Barrett spoke about what changes the state could make in light of this audit.
"We will see a lot of changes moving forward," said Barrett. "Some of these could include the ability of the Department of Human Services to go in and inspect these homes as they do with any other nursing home that is privately owned. Another idea is assigning an independent ombudsman who would report outside of the chain of command of the home for veterans. And, going forward, looking at how the budgeting is done for the department. Some of the things that were flagged in this audit had been flagged in previous audits but had not been corrected, but the Legislature had appropriated money to fix these problems."
The audit of the Grand Rapids facility also inspired Barrett and Knezek to form their own nonprofit, the Michigan Veterans Institute, to provide support and resources to Michigan's war veterans.
As veterans in the state Legislature, Barrett and Knezek were able to put their political differences aside to collaborate on laws that will benefit other veterans. The institute, according to Barrett, will work to raise awareness and resources.
Knezek and Barrett have already started to outline their plans for the institute, including providing veterans with services dogs. And, as Michigan was ranked second in 2014 in veteran homelessness, the institute hopes to provide veterans with job opportunities and proper health care.
Barrett emphasized the mentorship program that the institute hopes to facilitate so more veterans can have a prosperous post-military life.
"You can come home from serving never having had a civilian job," said Barrett. "Someone who has transitioned the way they have can help them."
The funding of the institute has already started to come from corporate partners as well as individual or non-profit donations.
Barrett says that the Michigan Veterans Institute will use the problems at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the past experiences of war veterans to learn how to best provide for Michigan's war veterans.
The full Stateside interview with Rep. Barrett can be heard here: