Though Monday’s parades are over, those who mourn the lives lost in military service know better than any the necessity of paying daily tribute to those who serve or have served this country. A continuing Memorial Day tribute is borne by the living veterans who represent in spirit those fallen soldiers with complete understanding of such circumstance and sacrifice. And many of them — an estimated 82,000 in Michigan — have come home having sacrificed limbs, vision, hearing and mental abilities.
The greatest tragedy and shame is the number of those who have served the nation but then are left standing in unemployment lines. Michigan is among the seven states with the highest unemployment rate among veterans. It also ranks last on veterans funding per capita, according to federal Department of Military and Veterans Affairs reports. Those facts create another level of dire state economic impacts.
State efforts to help ease such a crisis have been scattered, and for the most part provide Band-Aids for the most crippling regulatory issues facing veterans. Last week, State Sen. Dave Hildebrand’s bill to simplify and broaden the current property tax exemption provided to disabled veterans and their spouses passed the Senate.
Attorney General Bill Schuette created a fund of $780 million for veterans and those on active duty to assist with mortgage problems. The sum represents Michigan’s share of the $25 billion settlement brought by 49 attorneys general, including Schuette, from banks and loan companies whose practices led to the national mortgage crisis and near-collapse of U.S. financial institutions.
One week ago, the Department of Natural Resources announced a new policy to provide all active-duty military members in Michigan free annual hunting and fishing licenses.
In Kent County, much more is anticipated. The county board in 2008 created the Kent County Department of Veterans’ Affairs to help raise awareness among veterans of services available. Reports last fall showed the significant work had been accomplished, and the number of benefits claims stood at about 120 per quarter. The county board has discussed various ways to fund services for needy service personnel, including a 0.01 millage request from voters. At the time, Commissioner Stan Ponstein commented to the Business Journal: “The federal government has turned their back on them. State government has done much the same but gave counties the right to offer a millage for veterans.”
As the number of returning veterans is likely to increase under Obama’s projected withdrawal plan from Afghanistan, it may behoove the county to consider such an opportunity now.
And it certainly behooves employers to offer summer openings and jobs to those who best represent the American ideal. Those businesses hoisting an American flag should be the first to offer such opportunities rather than a symbol of doing the right thing.