Macomb to ask voters for more money for vets

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Voters in Macomb County will be asked in August whether to support a property tax hike that would benefit thousands of local veterans, many of whom are homeless or in need of health care.

The county is asking for a 0.04-mill renewal and a 0.029-mill increase of the Macomb County veterans millage which has levied funding for veterans since 2008, county officials say.

The county Board of Commissioners approved the veterans millage proposal for the August primary election ballot after conducting a study on how veterans could receive benefits faster through the Veterans Services Department, board chairman David Flynn said.

The proposal would levy the revised total of 0.069 mills for 2017 and 2018 and be renewed at the same rate from 2019-22.

“This extremely small increase will allow our vets to streamline the process to receive 100 percent of the benefits they qualify for from their service time,” Flynn said.

If the millage passes, a taxpayer with a home valued at $100,000 would pay $3.45 annually.

“Just about everybody has somebody in their family, whether it’s a parent or grandparent, who has served,” said Laura Rios, director of the Veterans Services Department. “It’s about taking care of those who have taken care of us.”

County officials say there are an estimated 53,000 veterans living in the county — many of whom suffer physical and mental disabilities from combat, are unemployed and need transportation.

In addition to more services, the millage would allow shorter wait times for veterans to receive benefits, officials say.

The veterans millage would raise $1.7 million in its first calendar year.

Rios said the proposal would fund transportation services for the veterans in wheelchairs or with oxygen tanks; a boot camp to help veterans get jobs; a treatment court for veterans who get arrested; and wage increases for employees that help veterans.

More than 23,000 veterans have visited the Veterans Services Department for help in the past three years, she said. The department works to maximize benefits for veterans and their families, includingeducation, home loans, burials, disability and rent assistance.

Brian Bobek, president of Vietnam Veterans of America in Clinton Township, said the county’s veterans services are essential since so many veterans are homeless or returning home from serving in the Middle East. Bobek recently encountered a veteran and his family who were living out of a car, he said.

“They are out there putting their life on the line for the continued freedoms we enjoy in this country,” Bobek said of men and women in the military.