Michigan ranks near bottom in linking vets to VA benefits. State Rep. says we need to move up, now.
Republican State Representative Jason Wentworth serves Michigan's 97th district and is the chair of the House Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. He served in the United States Army, and before he was elected to the state House, he was a regional coordinator for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA).
Earlier this year, he worked to get a bill signed into law that will — for the first time — make state funds available for county governments to help veterans apply for federal VA benefits.
Wentworth joined Stateside to talk about what the MVAA is – and is not – doing to ensure Michigan veterans are equipped with the resources they need to access federal VA benefits.
State-employed accredited veterans service officers play a crucial role in helping veterans navigate a complex federal benefits system marked by bureaucratic red tape. However, Wentworth says that right now, counties across the state don't have officers to accommodate the number of veterans in need of service.
“Common sense tells us that when a veteran needs help with government, they go to their county building where their seat is. And if there’s a county veteran service officer there, that service officer helps them with that paperwork,” Wentworth said. “Problem is that… in most cases, those veteran service departments have been stagnant in funding for decades because local governments have reduced levels of funding year after year. So they’re trying to hang onto their veteran services, they’re not focused on growing their veteran services in their county.”
A strategic plan recently released by the MVAA that looks at the next four years for the agency provides little mention of the need for more veteran service officers in the state of Michigan. Wentworth says that although he hasn’t read the plan in its entirety, he thinks that when it comes to veterans issues, the delivery of services is just one of the many that should be addressed by the MVAA.
Listen above to hear more about the MVAA’s new plan as well as a recent performance audit of the agency that looks into Michigan’s ability to locate its veterans in communities across the state.