State encourages veterans to apply for benefits

This Memorial Day, Michigan lawmakers are looking at different ways to get veterans to apply for benefits.
The statistics are not good when it comes to amount of benefits awarded to Michigan veterans.
“They’re terrible.”
That’s State Representative Kurt Damrow. He chairs the house committee on Military, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security. 
Damrow says Michigan ranks at the bottom in terms of total veterans expenditures.
“We are number 53 in how we hand out benefits; 53 out of all of the states, to include Guam, Puerto Rico and D.C. So we’re last. I mean, we’re not doing good for our 700,000 plus veterans,” Damrow said.
The problem isn’t that Michigan veterans are being denied benefits; it’s that they’re not applying for them in the first place. 
Just ask Ian Welsh. He’s the director of veterans affairs for Isabella County…
“Every case is based upon its own merits. If they’re entitled, they’re entitled. If they’re not, they’re not. But when people don’t apply, they don’t get it,” Welsh said.
Welsh’s job is to help veterans apply for federal benefits — kind of a one-stop shop for applications.
Offices like his are in 70 of Michigan’s 83 counties, and the others are served by organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Welsh says another problem is that many veterans don’t realize that offices like his exist.
“You always get World War II veterans or Korean veterans or Vietnam veterans, people who have been around a long time who have never heard of these offices, they’ve never heard of VA benefits being available to them,” said Welsh.
The State of Michigan is aware of the problem, and is trying to raise awareness about available benefits.
“We are trying to encourage people to apply for those benefits,” said Jason Allen, senior deputy director for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
He says the process should begin with gathering your service records.
“The first thing that I would do is try to get your paperwork in order. And so, whatever military documents you have from when you served. One of the documents we really like to see is the DD-214. We have those available at our office also. From there, what you should do is sit down with a counselor,” Allen said.
Benefits cover everything from health care to disability, along with avenues to help veterans continue their education — Allen points to those to emphasize the value — the return on investment.
“The benefit is approximately $1,000 a month, and this is set on the cost of living. And certain parts of our state have higher costs of living, and certain universities have lower costs of living. From there, it’s $1,000 a semester for books and instructional material; and then approximately $16,500 a year for tuition. That comes to a package that’s approximately about $31,000.”
But again, it is a benefit that is not being claimed by many in Michigan. 
State Representative Kurt Damrow himself is one of the veterans eligible for education benefits, also called the G-I bill. He served for nearly 20 years with the National Guard.
But like many of his peers, he never claimed the benefits.
“I’m kicking myself. I qualified for the new GI bill. Did I ask for it when I got home? No I didn’t. And no one really presented it to me. I received a few emails or something, maybe a couple letters in the mail. But I am kicking myself for not getting in on this,” Damrow said.
But for Damrow, and many Michigan veterans, it’s not too late.
He’s now working to get the word out — all veterans have to do is ask.
]”We are working very closely with all of Michigan’s veterans service organizations, like the American Legion, the VFW, the Marine Corp League, AMVETS and on and on, and we’re going to put a boots on the ground program. One thing many veterans do is sometimes they lose trust and their faith in the government. So when they get a piece of mail or a letter, and it’s marked from the Department of Defense, it can often go in the trash. We’re going to get these veterans out there to understand the program, and help us from these posts, and get out there and knock on the door of many of our veterans who qualify. We have phone lists, we have residence lists, and we’re going to start knocking on doors and shaking some hands and say, listen, ‘we’re here to help and welcome home,'” said Damrow.
Ian Welsh, the director of Veterans Affairs for Isabella County, says such outreach efforts should help bring vterans through his doors. 
He’s also a fan of advertising to help spread the word…
“Why doesn’t the state take a couple million dollars — I know that’s a lot of money, but realistically, in the scope of their budget, it isn’t. But take some money and literally advertise VA benefits. I think it would have a huge jump in veterans benefits in this state, and the state would benefit. It would bring a lot of federal money — ancillary money, it wouldn’t be direct money. But obviously they would spend it in this state. It would benefit the state.”
Given current budget realities in the state, Michigan, advertising isn’t necessarily on the table.
Instead, state officials are counting on word of mouth — from themselves, from veterans organizations, and from the family and friends of Michigan’s veterans. 
On the Web

Veterans Administration: Federal Benefits: https://www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits-portal/ebenefits.portal
Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs http://www.michigan.gov/dmvahttp://www.michigan.gov/dmva

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Drivers are reminded to stay in the right lane.

You’ve probably heard of all kinds of awareness months; April was Alcohol Awareness month, May was Health Vision Month … and there are a host of others.  Now the National Motorists Association has declared June for a cause of it’s own. Lane Courtesy Awareness month is aimed at those drivers who get into the left – so called – “passing lane”  and then tool along below the speed limit.

Sgt. Dave Kaiser  with the Michigan State Police post in Mt Pleasant says what may seem like nothing more than a frustrating annoyance is also a real traffic hazard, “They’re not paying attention to the roadway, they’re not paying attention to other traffic around them. And like I said, you could be right directly behind them in a police car and they’re just not noticing. They’re not paying attention. And if they’re not paying attention to me in a police car, you know they’re not paying attention to the other motoring public.”

    Sgt. Kaiser says legally you’re not supposed to be in the left lane unless you’re passing another vehicle or preparing to make a left hand turn. 

He says you can be ticketed for “driving in the wrong lane”.  Although he says most often, officers that he knows stick with giving warnings.  

 

Ithaca Public Schools Superintendent says “Make my school a prison”

One Michigan school superintendent is trying to raise awareness to what he sees as an ongoing problem in education funding; more money goes to state prisons…than to schools.
His solution?  He says turn his school into a prison.
In a letter to Gov. Rick Snyder, Ithaca School Superintendent Nathan Bootz said prisoners receive things that he has to cut from his budget.
He says the state is not constitutionally obligated to provide students with benefits prisoners receive.
       
“If you’re going to do that for a prisoners then by all means give me the means to provide my kids with three square meals a day.  Give me the means to provide health care to my kids.  That’s not a given when a kid comes into a school”
One Michigan School Superintendent is trying to raise awareness to what he sees as an ongoing problem in education funding; more money goes to state prisons…than to schools.
His solution?  He says turn his school into a prison.
Bootz says that currently the state spends around $30,000-$40,000 for every prisoner and is struggling to give schools $7,000 for every student.
“If a kid comes into a school I don’t know if he has health insurance.  If a kid gets sick there’s no guarantee that he’s going to get to see a doctor..in a prison…they get medical help…not in a public school” said Bootz.
Bootz said he realizes it’s not like comparing apples to apples…but “it is like comparing apple blossoms to rotten apples” he said. 
Bootz says he already has more than 250 responses to his letter from community members.

Police say heroin on the rise in rural and suburban communities

heroin.jpgIt seems as though the war on drugs is making its way to more unexpected locations in Michigan, and with what some call “an unexpected drug”.

Usually marijuana is seen as the more recreational drug among teens and adults.
But lately heroin has been a problem in many communities across the state.  Police say they are receiving more heroin related calls, and seeing more deaths as a result of heroin overdose.
According to drug enforcement agencies across the state, heroin is affecting more and more communities. It may not surprise you as much to hear about bigger cities struggling with a heroin problem.   
But now, police say, the drug is reaching into smaller communities, including cities like Fenton, with a population of 11,756
“We’re Mayberry, this is where people move to get out of drugs,” said Jim Weegant, the pastor of the Freedom Center in Fenton.  He and others in the city are working to get drugs out of the community.
Earlier this year in Fenton two teenagers died from heroin overdose. 
“I think as far as our schools, or the superintendents or the principals.  I think they think it’s not happening in our schools but it’s here.  It’s everywhere you know, I think these people got their heads in the sand or up their butt for one to think that it’s not here.  But it’s here and it’s touching all our kids,” said Hassan Jaharwi, the father of one of the deceased teens.
Police say heroin isn’t only a problem in the southern part of the state.  Other drug enforcement agencies throughout the state have been seeing an increase in heroin cases.
“With the different drugs teams I’ve worked with over the past 15 years I haven’t seen anything of this nature with heroin.  We’ve seen heroin arising from many of the same places we’ve seen cocaine come from; Grand Rapids, Detroit,” said Kipp Feltcher with Traverse Narcotics Team.
       
Feltcher says they’ve seen heroin related incidents triple over the past two years.   
The Straits Area Narcotics Team; which has historically dealt with prescription drug problems, said it has been facing problems with heroin as well.  For example, in 2002, they had no cases of heroin abuse. But since 2003, the number of cases dealing with heroin has gone up every year.  
“Prior to that we hadn’t seen a problem with heroin,” said Ken Mills with the Straits Area Narcotics team.   “We’ve seen an increase in the market for heroin.  We attribute most of that to possibly, some of those prevention efforts are working with pain meds, and those addicted to pain meds are turning to heroin to get that high.”
       
Mills said that heroin will continue to be a problem because addicts aren’t going anywhere and will always look for a new drug.
Some communities are taking it upon themselves to eradicate the problem in their communities.  In Fenton, local officials have started a program called “Community Parent” that helps people counsel kids dealing with drug problems.  
In Northern Michigan health officials have started the NMSAS or the Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services to give people dealing with drug addiction medical attention.
       
       

“Gold Star” plate will be available to families of fallen warriors

BY RICK PLUTA
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING — Spouses, parents, children, and siblings of fallen warriors will soon be able to order a special “Gold Star” license plate from the state. The Gold Star is the traditional emblem for families of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen who are killed in action. 
Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation to create the plate at a service attended by survivors of armed forces members killed in overseas conflicts. 
He said on the Memorial Day holiday, those family members also deserve to be remembered and honored.
“Because you are also heroes for the sacrifice you have made, and the burdens you carry, and the grief you suffered for your family members who have made that sacrifice on behalf of our country and all of us and so we need to say ‘thank you’ for that,” Snyder said.
The Gold Star plates will be available to immediate family members of fallen service people after the July Fourth holiday. 
More than 200 Michigan service members have been killed in the line of duty since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Six have died this year. 
© Copyright 2011, MPRN

Gov. Snyder pleased with state budget

BY RICK PLUTA
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder says he’s pleased with the budget the Legislature approved Thursday, and that it sets Michigan on a positive course for the future. 
Snyder said having the budget done this early gives school districts, local governments, colleges and universities time to plan their futures. Their fiscal years begin July 1.
He said it also sends a message that Michigan is managing its finances. And the governor said it shows that he and the Legislature can set goals and meet them. 
“To say this would be easy, the answer would be ‘no,’ though, because we did have to cut a lot from this budget to have us successful for the long term,” Snyder said.
That includes reductions to schools and universities and a cap on welfare benefits. 
According to the governor, the budget passed by the legislature is fiscally sound.
“No accounting gimmicks and then actually making payments toward our long-term liabilities. As a state, we’ve racked up essentially a credit card with a lot of debt and we’re starting to make payments on that – which is huge,” he said.
The governor said he’s pleased the budget protects mental health services and Medicaid health coverage for poor families. 
He said tough choices made this year will make it easier to balance the budget in the future. 
© Copyright 2011, MPRN

Legislature finishes off work on state budget

BY LAURA WEBER
Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING — The Michigan Legislature has finished work on the state budget. 
Lawmakers sent the spending plan to Gov. Rick Snyder four months earlier than the constitutional deadline. Republican leaders say this is the earliest the budget has been done since the 1960s.
In the end the budget was given final approval quickly and quietly. The process lacked all of the long hours and heated floor debate of recent years. Most of that is due to a Republican-dominated House, Senate and executive office with sparse in-fighting.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” said Republican State Rep. Chuck Moss. “They said we could not get our budgets done, we could not get our business done, at least before June first, that we could not perform our duties in an expeditious manner.”
Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer says the sheer lack of Democratic votes can be frustrating. And she says unilateral Republican control allowed for a budget that does not reflect the needs and wants of people in the state.
“It’s a time when these decisions are going to have a palpable impact down the road and so it is, it’s frustrating to be cut off at the knees because that these are really mer”itorious arguments that we’re making,” Whitmer said.
But, Whitmer says, the budget is done and Democrats and Republicans alike will turn their attention to other looming, controversial issues, such as education reform.
© Copyright 2011, MPRN