Michigan has consistently ranked in the bottom five states and territories when it comes to helping veterans and their families access federal VA benefits.
Why are so many Michigan vets not getting the benefits they've earned?
All week, Stateside has been digging into this question. We've talked to veterans from two different generations about their experiences returning home. A county-level veteran services administrator shared his concerns about the lack of staff available to help veterans connect to benefits. We also heard from a state representative about what progress the state has — and has not — made.
Today, we heard from Stephanie Zarb, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 2006 to 2011. Following her service, she was the program manager of a statewide nonprofit that helps connect veterans to benefits.
Zarb said the state office tasked with connecting more veterans to benefits — the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency — is not doing enough.
Michigan’s inability to properly help its veterans, Zarb said, is due to difficulty in accessing VA Accredited Service Officers. These officers are trained to determine the type of benefits for which veterans are eligible. Some counties do not have a service office, and others are only open one day per week.
“Not only do veterans not know that they need to go see service officers, but when they try to do it, there are so many roadblocks,” Zarb explained.
When Governor Rick Snyder signed an executive order creating the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency in 2013, Zarb said there was a lot of excitement in the veteran community.
“We thought, finally, we are going to have this great agency. They are going to do great things, they’re going to fix this problem. We’re all going to work together, and we are going take care of our veterans even better than what we’re doing right now.”
But Zarb said that's not what happened. While the MVAA made a small increase in grants to higher more service officers, a recent report from Michigan's auditor general found that the MVAA has not been successful in connecting veterans to federal benefits.
Listen to the full interview to hear Zarb talk about why state-run veteran nursing homes are not the best solution for aging veterans, and the future improvements she thinks the MVAA could make.