There are about six hundred thousand veterans in Michigan. That's the 11th highest in the nation, according to the U.S. Census. Yet Michigan has consistently ranked in the bottom five states and territories when it comes to helping veterans and their families access federal veteran benefits. These are benefits that could bring much needed assistance with finances, employment, and health care, to name a few.
All this week on Stateside, we'll be looking at why more vets in Michigan aren't getting connected to the benefits they may be entitled to. What's working and what needs to be fixed?
Stateside heard from two veterans on what it was like adjusting to life in Michigan after service. U.S. Army Vietnam veteran Lawrence Dolph served from 1968 to 1970. Veteran Dan Patrick served in the Marine Corps from 2005-2009 and saw combat in Iraq.
Listen above for the full interview and see highlights below.
When Dolph returned from service in Vietnam in 1970, the U.S. was in the midst of an industrial boom and had a desperate need for workers. He says that between ample job availability and the G.I. Bill, it was actually easier for Vietnam veterans to fund their education than it was for those who did not serve. Still, Dolph recognizes that not all Vietnam veterans in Michigan received the support they needed.
“We know now that about 85 percent of those who served in Vietnam successfully integrated into civilian life, and I was lucky to be one of those. Fifteen percent came back and were just at a state that they could not right themselves,” Dolph said. “So what did that mean for Michigan? It meant about 230,000 of us came back and integrated, got productive jobs, had families. And 40,000 were released in the state that were just a highly visible mess with no support.”
When Patrick came back from Iraq, he was struck by how little Americans seemed to care about the war. The apathy he saw prompted him to disconnect from that part of his life.
"Being a veteran was just a thing I put in the drawer and let it collect dust. I just tried to learn to become Dan again,” Patrick said.
According to Patrick, convincing employers that military skills could translate into any given workplace posed a significant challenge to him and to other veterans in his cohort. He also thinks that the state could be doing more to help connect veterans with people who can help them determine if they're eligible for federal VA benefits.
Listen above to hear more about Dolph and Patrick’s experiences with the civilian workforce, navigating federal benefits, and how they think Michigan could do better by its veterans.