Opinion: We can't lose sight of Michigan's veterans during COVID-19

Zaneta Adams

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our normal daily routines, and the economic impact of the pandemic becomes more prevalent, it has never been more important to preserve access to health care and other benefits for Michigan veterans.

Being a veteran myself, I know firsthand how strong our community is. We’re resilient, resourceful and supportive. But as a veteran, I also know that historically veterans have not been able to take full advantage of the benefits they have earned for their service to our nation. I had to fight to receive my benefits after being partially paralyzed and medically discharged with honor.

Committed to helping more Michigan veterans get their benefits, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency has worked tirelessly over the last few months to revise our communications efforts to adapt to COVID-19. Where our agency has traditionally relied on one-on-one or small group meetings to reach veterans, we’ve had to use our resiliency and resourcefulness in new and broader ways to ensure we continue to reach Michigan’s 550,000 veterans.

In lieu of traditional outreach efforts, we are directing veterans to our Michigan Veteran Resource Service Center, which has been and will continue to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Veteran Resource Service Center is staffed by expertly trained technicians, knowledgeable about and ready to answer veteran-related questions about benefits and services for health care, education, employment and other quality-of-life issues.

In April, we launched the “Check on MIVet” initiative to connect veterans, Michigan National Guard and Reserve members with benefits and services. Through the initiative, anyone concerned about a veteran, Guard or Reserve member can simply fill out an online form, requesting that a representative from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency or a partner organization check in on them through a phone call. The goal: to ensure veterans receive the employment, health care, quality of life and other benefits they need — especially during this global pandemic.

We are also conducting regular virtual coffee hours, covering topics ranging from education benefits to emergency relief and caregiver support, and letting those who want to learn more or ask questions participate online.

I will be the first to admit: these new outreach initiatives are not the same as an in-person meeting. But as COVID-19 has a particularly devastating impact on older veterans with pre-existing conditions, these steps ensure that we continue offer opportunities to connect with veterans and their families to directly answer questions and guide them toward resources.

Zaneta Adams is director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.

Many veterans and their families are facing financial crises as the pandemic impacts employers. To support these veterans, we partnered with county Veteran Service Offices throughout the state to provide County Veteran Service Fund Emergency Relief grants, allowing them to deliver much-needed assistance directly into the hands of eligible veterans in counties that opt in for this COVID-19 emergency relief. The money was also made available to veterans affected by flooding in the Midland area.

The grants — totaling more than $1.5 million — are helping veterans with vehicle and home repairs, medical expenses, groceries, personal care items and other vital needs. In addition, we teamed up with Michigan-based grocer Meijer to provide veterans with vouchers for food, paper products, laundry and household cleaning products, health and beauty care items and pet food.

And finally, our Michigan Veterans Trust Fund is providing emergency grants to eligible veterans and their families facing financial hardship.

Michigan veterans have given much to our state and nation. We are working hard to make sure they get all the benefits they have earned. If you know of a veteran who could use a hand, visit michiganveterans.com or call our free hotline at 1-800-MICH-VET.

Zaneta Adams is director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency.