Thursday, July 17, 2014

You think its bad at the Veterans home try the outside world and its problems.

Hey Guys, post this on the blog for me. Thanks, Greg.

When I came to the Grand Rapids home for Veterans, I didn't even know that it existed, nor that it had been there for many years, even though I had lived in and around Grand Rapids for most of my life.

I came just after Sara Dunne took over as temporary administer, being promoted from what I was told was the person in charge of the kitchens.

We had bingo games almost every night, and lots of activities. But in 2010 the economy was winding down from the crash of 2008. And at the time Michigan was getting little if any Federal money for its veterans.

Some people blamed the dwindling activities on the administration. Saying they were driving away people and volunteers. The shake up of the Clothing room was used as an example as the folks running it were replaced with another group. Then they moved the room to another part of the building and the area for clothing was cut by 2/3rds. The quantity and quality of clothing was reduced.  And with the donations being made from the home to the "in the image" store, many thought that Donations that were meant for veterans were being given away and the vets not getting what they needed. The fact was, the excess and old inventory that was not being rotated, is what was being given to "in the image" to make room for new donations and stuff needed by the veterans. Why warehouse stuff you are not using, or have excessive amounts of, that only a few people need?

The fact is that the money just ran out, both from the state, and well, the feds just weren't giving us much of anything.

Then Jason Allen and the others of the Michigan Department of Veterans Affairs went after the federal money and started getting us qualified. The money started coming in.. And it is still coming in.

Proof of this are the recent budget expenditures that are earmarked for the veterans home. 45 million dollars for upkeep and maintenance, special funds to replace the broken chiller for the AC system for the 2 main nursing buildings.

And that is not the only money being spent.

Since I left the home, I have been working with the Hud-Vash outreach clinic located on Century Avenue. We meet there every Friday for a lunch and a network get together. People from different groups who help veterans come in and talk to us.  And this last week there were no speakers. However, something came to light that echo'ed what I had heard at the veterans home. "They are making millions off of us, while we get little or nothing" and  "people using veterans to make money instead of helping them". 

There are a lot of groups out there claiming to be helping veterans. Homeless vets, Vets with drinking problems, drug problems, Job problems.. And each group has its own criteria to qualify for its help.  Groups that help veterans with Food. There is a group that runs a food pantry only for veterans and its located downstairs from the Outreach office in the same building. This same group also helps veterans with expenditures, such as car repairs or rent deposits, or money for needed furniture, or other things not covered by other means.  The amount is limited to 250 dollars and they write a check specifically to a business, you do not get cash. And you can only use them once every 6 months for this.   And a lot of guys need it..

West Michigan Department of Veterans affairs, located in the Federal building at 50 Ionia, requires veterans to be of a verified war period. Such as Vietnam, or Desert Storm, or Grenada.  Just because you are an honorable discharged veteran does not necessarily get you qualified for help from them; and many of us believe that is wrong.

Many vets living on the outside of the Home, are surviving on below cost of living budgets. Social Security Disability for instance, pays on average, about 1266 a month. Hud Vash pays 2/5ths of a persons rent up to a specified amount. After basic utilities such as heat, water, electric, and phone, a veteran can end up with just 300 left for food and other misc expenses such as laundry, and car expenses. And if you lived at the Home, and were in the Dom unit, the Dom unit costs started at 2100 a month per person and went up depending on that veterans medical needs. Yet veterans cannot get that same amount from the VA or Social Security.. BIG difference in the amount being spent.

Veterans getting full VA pension get even less than the Social Security 1266 per month, I am told.

And many of them find that they cannot get the kind of help they need when they need it, even when there are dozens of groups out there that are supposedly helping veterans.  Carl was one like me who needed help with car repairs, since he has his daughter with him. He could not generate enough money to get the car fixed, so it sits in a parking lot unused. Its costing him money for plates and monthly insurance (which in Michigan is outrageous) for a vehicle he cannot even use. It is going to take him 3 months to save enough money to get the repairs done, that once completed will give him a safe and reliable car to use even with outside groups helping him.

Other vets needed down payments and first months rent to move into a new Hud-Vash approved apartment. But because they are peace time vets, and not involved in any conflict  they cannot get the financial help they need to get over "the hump" as we are now calling it.

A big factor that came to light is that NO one in government is coordinating the many different groups that are out there. And many vets don't even know that they exist until they (both vets and groups) come to one of the outreach meetings, or they hear about the group from the grape vine.

Some of the guys even complained about the Salvation Army's Booth family services group that supposedly helps veterans get jobs. They say its ineffective.

And that old Herkner hotel that got renovated into temporary housing? 3 of the guys say there is a time limit to be there. Well what if you need longer? Michigan's economy still is in the dumps. 8.9 percent unemployment (official numbers). Some say the real numbers are double that. So if it takes you longer to get a job that pays enough to get you on your feet, what happens when their time is up at the Herkner? They end up on the street homeless again and the cycle starts all over from scratch.

Add the VA problems to the mix, and you have a real mess.  And many of the vets going to the outreach meetings are older vets. The newer guys from the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations, have their own special problems and needs that are not being met.

Yeah, I have my own apartment. It is better than the 8x10 area I had in Rankin 3, the Dom unit. And I choose what meals I eat, (Sloppy Joes without BEANS amongst other things,) and I can sit in my living room and watch TV, or practice my guitar. But financially I struggle every day. And at the end of the month, I usually run out of food, and have to go to a pantry to get me thru that last week. And I have to pay for my own clothing which can be expensive even for the basic things. Also food prices are going up very quickly reducing the amount I can get for my 300-400 a month budget.  And the VA delays are a constant battle with me. 

At the home you have 3 hots and a cot, and medical. That may not seem like a lot, but when you don't have to worry about that stuff,  it takes a lot of stress off of your mind. Maybe you guys at the home don't have it so bad?  Yes there is room for improvement and its desperately needed. I suggest you forget the administration and take your concerns to the board of managers directly.

Either way, those problems are a lot easier to deal with than what we have in the outside world.

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