Opinion | The veteran population is changing. We must change with it

Zaneta Adams

Zaneta Adams is a disabled veteran, attorney and dedicated advocate of veteran and women’s causes. She was appointed the first woman director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency in June.

As we honor our nation’s patriots on this Veterans Day, it’s important to understand that the face of the American veteran is changing.

Organizations that serve veterans, including the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency and our stakeholders, must change with it.

As part of this shift, consider our female veteran population. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, female veterans account for an estimated 8 percent of Michigan’s veteran population. But by 2045, women veterans will make up an estimated 16 percent of the state’s veteran contingent.

Today, there are nearly 200,000 Vietnam veterans in Michigan, the most of any wartime era. But that number will drop dramatically, to an estimated 15,100 by 2045, when Gulf War veterans will make up the bulk of our veteran population.

While our aging Vietnam veterans require appropriate benefits and services, we must also address the unique needs of Gulf War veterans, including mental health services. The suicide rate for Michigan veterans aged 18-34 is stunningly high, at 44.4 per 100,000 population -– compared to 16.2 per 100,000 for all Michigan residents in this age group, according to the latest available data from the VA.

With these and other trends in mind, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, or MVAA, is restructuring operations and expanding its reach to better serve shifting veteran populations. As the resource hub for all Michigan veterans and their families, we are dedicated to reaching and serving veterans where they are and how they want to be reached, through all phases of their life.

In the first step to better serve our female veterans, the MVAA this year launched “She Is a Veteran,” an outreach campaign to recognize women for their service, help them tell their unique stories and connect them to the benefits they earned for serving their country.

This campaign is part of our broader effort to establish a robust women veterans program in Michigan to increase awareness and support for our 43,000 female veterans. While women are the fastest growing demographic group of veterans, they face myriad challenges including substance abuse, military sexual trauma, mistrust of the VA health system and the widespread problem of being overlooked as veterans.

To the Vietnam veterans we are striving to reach, our message is clear: Your service is truly appreciated, and you could be eligible for VA benefits for Agent Orange damage. This eligibility now covers Blue Water Navy Veterans, or those who served on open-sea ships off the shore of Vietnam.

To support our aging veterans, we are modernizing and increasing the number of state-run, long-term care facilities for veterans and their spouses. Although 53 percent of Michigan’s nearly 600,000 veterans are 65 or older – higher than the national average of 47 percent -– we have just two state veterans homes, in Grand Rapids and Marquette.

A replacement home in Grand Rapids and a home in Macomb County -– the first state veterans home in southeastern Michigan -- are both under construction and slated to open in 2021. The new facilities are part of our plan to build up to seven new homes to provide cutting-edge, long-term care for veterans across the state.

Ultimately, our goal is to reach and serve all Michigan veterans, a strategic approach that calls for connecting with underserved veteran populations including women veterans, tribal veterans and incarcerated veterans. 

With our “no wrong door” approach, we are working to better connect veterans to benefits and services through 1-800-MICH-VET and at MichiganVeterans.com. Every day, we help veterans turn their military experience into college credit, find a good-paying job, file for VA compensation benefits or apply for an emergency grant through our Michigan Veterans Trust Fund to pay rent or utilities during a temporary financial hardship. 

We at the MVAA consider it a privilege to be able to serve all who have served, including Michigan National Guard members and Reservists. Serving veterans – every single veteran, regardless of era, age, gender or race – is our passion.

To us, every day is Veterans Day.

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Mon, 11/11/2019 - 2:43pm

I am a female veteran of the first Gulf War. I just looked on the MVAA website and could find no link to "She is a Veteran". Where is this outreach happening when it doesn't even appear on the website?

Al Churchill
Mon, 11/18/2019 - 1:27am

As a Korean war era veteran, who gets top-notch medical service from the Ann Arbor VA facility, it is surely appropriate to support newer groups of veterans being welcomed to VA care that they most certainly deserve. That being said, if change does need to occur, I suspect that it is minimal. The doctors and support personel that this writer has met at the Ann Arbor VA hospital are at the top of their game.