Veterans affairs director updates county board

Published 10:07 am Monday, July 6, 2015

While things are looking good for the local agency right now, some potential rough waters may be ahead for the Cass County Veterans Affairs Department.

County Veteran Affairs Director Tom Green delivered this assessment during his annual report about the local support organization to members of the Cass County Board of Commissioners during their meeting Thursday evening in Cassopolis.

Green reported that, while a number of figures show that local veterans are fairing well, potential state legislation could severely impact operations of the agency in the near the future.

The Cass County Veterans Affairs office provides a number of services to county residents who have served in the armed services.

These may include, but are not limited to, health care, disability compensation, burial benefits or emergency relief grants through the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund.

Green reported that his department received fewer requests for financial assistance over the past year, using only $650 from the relief fund compared to $1,200 this time last year, he said. This trend appears to be consistent with other agencies across Michigan, as the statewide Veterans Trust Fund, which provides money to local agencies for emergency relief, has only used $15,000 compared to $26,000 last year, Green said.

“I hope that means an improving economy is allowing our veterans to get jobs and get on their on feet, and not have the need to come and ask for assistance,” he said.

Request for veteran burial services are also down inside the county, which is also a positive trend, Green said.

Despite that fact, the veteran population residing in Cass County continues to slowly decline, from 4,592 from a count two years to 4,424 in the most recent one, the director said.

“We’re on the trend down because of the loss of the World War II generation, mostly,” Green said.

The director also pointed out that Michigan Veterans Trust Fund has recently been affected by a new policy that restricts the amount of financial relief it can give veterans; the county can now only provide a maximum of $1,500 at one time to a veteran for an emergency situation, down
from $2,000.

Another reform could be coming down the pipeline by year’s end, as legislation may be introduced in Lansing in the coming months that would eliminate local control over distribution of trust fund dollars, Green said. The director told the commissioners that he is opposed to such a restriction.

“It would very much impact our ability to react quickly to veterans’ needs,” Green said. “Not only that, but it may even impact economically into the county, because if we don’t have those funds available, where are we going to turn? It’s up to you [the county] to help us with the relief fund, so I’d rather not see that go away.”

With an increasing number of Vietnam War veterans hitting retirement age, and veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan applying for support at a faster rate than those in previous wars, Veterans Affairs will continue to play a pivotal in the county, Green said.

“I’m so grateful that you support this department,” Green told the commissioners. “This department is going to need your support for a lot of years to come, because these young veterans are going to need care 60 years from now.”