Aiming to connect more Michigan veterans to the benefits they earned for their service, the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency (MVAA) is partnering with several federal and state organizations and veterans’ groups to launch a first-of-its-kind veteran outreach initiative.
The Community Outreach and Regional Engagement (CORE) Initiative vastly expands veteran outreach in Michigan by establishing teams of veteran benefits experts and advocates in 10 regions covering the state. CORE is designed to ensure veterans get all the help they need – including federal disability benefits, college tuition and employment assistance, mental health services and more – through this unique collaborative effort.
Partners include the Michigan Veterans Coalition (MVC), the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Veterans Community Action Teams (VCATs), the federal Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and volunteers across Michigan through MVAA’s new Buddy-to-Buddy Veteran Mentorship Initiative.
“The CORE Initiative marks the first time in which the departments and organizations that provide veterans services and advocacy across the state are coming together to this magnitude to address gaps in services and provide a unified voice to all veterans, service members and their dependents,” said Zaneta Adams, Director of the MVAA, the central coordinating agency for Michigan’s 550,000 veterans and their families.
The goal, she noted, is to get more Michigan veterans connected to benefits and services. In 2009, Michigan ranked 48th in the nation for the average amount of VA disability compensation and pension benefits it provides to veterans. By 2019, the state improved to 38th in that ranking – an upward trend the MVAA is working to continue.
“Ultimately, the success of this initiative will be shown through an increase in veterans connected to their benefits, whether that’s federal compensation and pension benefits, VA healthcare, educational opportunities or other benefits,” Adams said.
Each regional CORE team will consist of 10-14 people who are knowledgeable of veteran benefits and of that particular region of the state. This will provide veterans with quicker, more holistic service, addressing whatever barriers they may be facing.
Each of the 10 teams will be led by a Senior Veteran Community Engagement Officer (SVCEO). The SVCEO will provide education and support to those working directly with veterans, including the VCATs and Veteran Navigators.
Three SVCEOs will be employed by the MVAA, while the rest of the SVCEOs will be employed by the Michigan Veterans Coalition. The coalition is comprised of five veteran service organizations: American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Joseph Greene, lead agent for the Michigan Veteran Coalition, said the MVC embraces the partnership with the MVAA and the development of the CORE Initiative.
“This will further expand our ability to ensure each veteran and their dependents have the necessary tools to not only survive but thrive in all aspects of their lives,” Greene said. “Working with Veteran Community Action Teams, the SVCEOs will serve as a conduit to avail all the resources at their disposal to ensure no veteran is left behind.”
Brian Webb is the Veteran Liaison for MDHHS, which runs the statewide Veteran Navigator Program.
“The Veteran Navigator Program continues to serve veterans, service members and their families throughout the state who are struggling with all aspects of mental health and substance use disorders,” Webb said. “We are committed, through this new partnership with the MVAA, to collectively enhance our ability to quickly and seamlessly connect veterans to the resources and benefits they need and deserve.”
Each team will also have at least one Veteran Community Engagement Officer (VCEO). The VCEOs, employed by MVAA, will conduct outreach, community engagement and marketing and make presentations on veteran benefits and MVAA veteran assistance available through the agency’s Veteran Resource Service Center at 1-800-MICH-VET.
Another component of the regional teams is the Buddy-to-Buddy Initiative. Each team will have a Buddy Coordinator as well as volunteer “Buddies” who will mentor and support veterans on their specific needs. The Buddy-to-Buddy Initiative replaces the University of Michigan program of a similar name.
Finally, through the VBA’s Veteran Readiness and Employment program, MVAA will train qualifying veterans to serve as interns to support the CORE Initiative. This partnership will expand the interns’ job skills while enhancing outreach efforts to veterans across Michigan.
Reaching and supporting veterans is the top priority of the MVAA. This latest collaborative initiative is the next phase of regional outreach in Michigan, supporting veterans and their loved ones in the communities where they live and work.