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Opinion | Help us connect Michigan veterans to benefits. You may save a life

In 2013, Michigan leaders realized the state’s military veterans were not getting connected to the benefits they earned for their service and created the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) to act as a central coordinating agency for veteran families.

Zaneta Adams
Zaneta Adams was appointed director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in June 2019. She is a disabled Army veteran and an attorney.

As the MVAA prepares to mark its 10th anniversary on Jan. 18, we’re proud of the partnerships we’ve created and the work we’ve done to support our 550,000-plus veterans and their dependents. But we also understand there is much work to be done.

Veterans Day is nearly upon us. And as we prepare to celebrate our former service members on Nov. 11, I am soliciting the help of everyone reading this to assist us in our goal of reaching and serving every veteran in Michigan.

How can you help? Simple. If you work at a hospital, business or any type of entity dealing with the public, become one our Michigan Veteran Connectors and ask your customers or clients if they’ve served in the military. If they have, thank them for their service and encourage them to contact the MVAA at 1-800-MICH-VET to be connected to benefits and resources.

Even if you don’t work with the public, ask those veterans you know if they’re connected to their benefits and send them our way.

For 10 years, Michigan veterans and their dependents have leaned on us to find the help they need. As a state agency, all of our support is confidential and complimentary. We are the experts on linking veterans to emergency assistance if they’re struggling, to help with finding a job, to a Veteran Service Officer for filing a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claim and to myriad other benefits including education and mental health resources.

Remember, these are free benefits our veterans earned for serving their country. But there’s another reason to help us in our mission: Veterans are less likely to have suicidal ideation or turn to suicide if they have a solid support system and are connected to the appropriate benefits and resources.

Veteran suicide remains a stubborn problem. A VA report released this year showed that 178 Michigan veterans died by suicide in 2020, and that the suicide rate for veterans (31.1 per 100,000 people) was much higher than that of the general population (17.8 per 100,000 people).

I was invited to the White House on Oct. 12 to discuss what Michigan is doing to successfully serve its veterans, including suicide prevention. Both the Whitmer administration and the VA made large investments in our suicide prevention efforts this year. Frankly, everything we do is considered through the lens of suicide prevention. Because, again, if we can help an unemployed veteran find a job or if we can connect a veteran with combat PTSD to mental health resources, we can help them avoid a crisis.

But first we must reach them. And we need your help in identifying the veterans across our state and sending them our way. You may just save a life.

If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 and press 1; text 838255; or chat online confidentially at www.veteranscrisisline.net.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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