All this week on Stateside, we're looking at why more Michigan veterans aren't getting the help they may be entitled to from the VA. The state has consistently ranked in the bottom five states and territories when it comes to helping veterans and their families access federal VA benefits.
Part of the problem is that the state doesn't have enough accredited veteran service officers. These are the experts who help vets navigate all the red tape in the VA's complex application process.
Michael Smith is the director of the Washtenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs. He served a collective 21 years in the U.S. Army and is now an Accredited Veteran Service Officer. He joined Stateside to talk about the challenges that many veterans face when navigating the application process for federal benefits.
Nearly 600,000 veterans live in Michigan. There are around 135 veterans service officers at the county level, which Smith says is not nearly enough. He says that this shortage is part of the reason why Michigan ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to veterans receiving federal benefits.
"If a veteran or a survivor or a dependent has nowhere to go to talk to someone who can advise them, and council them on benefits, and then assist them in the process of applying for those benefits, then they won't do it," Smith said.
Listen above to hear Smith talk about what the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) could be doing to better support veterans, and his advice for veterans seeking help with determining their own potential VA benefits.