Veterans Protection Project: Soldiers battle for benefits - WNEM TV 5


Veterans Protection Project: Soldiers battle for benefits

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They have fulfilled their duty to our country but many veterans are returning home only to fight another battle.

Michigan veterans are struggling to get the benefits they're entitled to. So what is making the process so difficult?

As an Army veteran who served during the Gulf War, Tegrey Jarrett is entitled to certain benefits and services.

But he's gone decades without getting the money and programs available to him.

"I didn't think there was anything available. I wasn't aware of it," says Jarrett.

Jarrett always wanted to be an electrician but didn't have the money to pay for school. He's been working as a barber, trying to make ends meet.

Just a few months ago one of his clients, Tredale Kennedy, told Jarrett funding is available to help veterans to go to school.

Jarrett applied for it and is now a full time student on the way to fulfilling his dream.

"I'm going to school to be an electrician, I would have been done a long time ago and been doing electrical work right now."

Kennedy, a veteran himself, founded the organization Alternative Veterans Solutions in Flint. Their mission is to help connect area vets with benefits set aside for them, but too often go unclaimed.  

"It took me about 14 years before I got benefits myself. I knew if it took me that long there was a lot of veterans in the same condition I was in," says Kennedy.

Michigan is home to 680,000 veterans. The 11th largest population of vets in the country. But, last year the state ranked last in federal money spent per person on services provided by the U.S. Veterans Administration."

TV5 went to Lansing to find out why.

Jeff Barnes, Director of the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency, says it boils down to poor communication between state agencies.

"Very few people in the room actually knew each other. So, as a state we left a lot of good will and good opportunity on the table for vets to take advantage of just by not connecting with our own state government," said Barnes.

Barnes also admits more effort needs to be put forth to make veterans aware of the benefits available. He says the VA's infamous back log has caused some veterans to not even turn to the government for assistance. But in the last 18 months the wait time has decreased from years to months.

Governor Snyder opened the Michigan Veterans Affairs office last March, to help vets connect with and apply for health care, training and jobs.

Barnes says there's more work to do but progress is being made.

The Director of the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency says they are opening a call center this spring.

Veterans will be able to call and speak with someone who will help connect them with services they qualify for.

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