Michigan has consistently ranked in the bottom five states and territories when it comes to helping veterans and their families access federal VA benefits. In 2013, Governor Rick Snyder created the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency to address the state's low ranking.
Yet five years after the governor created the MVAA to address the issue, Michigan still ranks near the bottom in connecting veterans with benefits. We conclude our week-long series on the issue with a conversation with James Redford, director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.
Redford told Stateside that connecting veterans to benefits is a process his team works on every day "in partnership with the county veteran service officers, our partners in the veteran service organizations that are congressionally-recognized, as well as our other state partners.”
Still, Redford acknowledged there is much room for improvement.
“Our statistics tell us that we are improving, but we’re not where we want to be. Where we want to be is leading the nation," he said. “We still need to get better so that every veteran who has earned a benefit has the ability to apply for it.”
A report conducted by the state's auditor general this year found that Michigan ranks 48th out of all states and U.S. territories in the level of VA spending per veteran. Since this report, Redford said that the MVAA has taken steps to improve services, including the hiring of a grant compliance officer in the Lansing office, making checks to ensure veteran officers are in their scheduled territories, and measuring and assessing customer satisfaction. With these changes implemented, Redford said he expects improvement.
“[The MVAA] is a tapestry that has many threads, and the picture that comes from that tapestry is service to our veterans, connections for our veterans, getting our veterans the benefits they’re entitled to, and making Michigan the place that veterans are going to work, retire, and raise their family.”