CORUNNA — The Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to establish a Peacetime Veterans Fund aimed at helping veterans who are not eligible for certain VA benefits because they did not serve during a conflict period.
The county plans to use $50,000 from already levied taxes through the Veterans Service Fund, which supports the Veterans Affairs office.
“We have already earmarked the $50,000 so it’s not going to cost additional money, taxes won’t have to be raised and millage rates will remain the same. The taxpayers won’t have to pay anymore than they already are,” Mike Reeve, director of Shiawassee County Veterans Affairs, said.
Voters renewed the millage to support the local veterans affairs office in 2018, approving up to 0.2 mill for five years. The full levy was expected to raise about $334,000 in the first year.
The commissioners hope the new fund will extend services to all veterans in need of aid. Several other counties in the state have established similar peacetime veteran funds to aid veterans who currently do not qualify for some benefits.
“They are all veterans whether they saw wartime duty or not and they have earned those benefits. The voters have approved funding for veterans and we need to use it. We have the money to serve these veterans and we should,” Commissioner Cindy Garber R- District 6 said.
According to Reeve, the reason the peacetime veterans are ineligible is because of Public Act 214, which sets standards for those receiving benefits. One criterion the act imposes is that a veteran must have served during a conflict and received an honorable discharge.
“If you’re a veteran and you served between the Korean War which ended in 1955, until when Vietnam started, or if you served after Vietnam and before 2001, because we weren’t at war and there was no wartime service, those veterans are not eligible for relief funds,” Reeve said.
The relief funds can be used for a wide variety of financial emergencies that may come up in a veterans life he said.
“We can help with a house payment, gas, and electric bills, heating bills, a lot really. Let’s say that a storm comes in and takes off a veterans roof and they need a new roof, we can help provide relief funds to help put a new roof on their house. If the water heater goes out, basically whatever emergency that creates an emergent need in a veterans life we can use the funds for,” Reeve said. “What this new fund is going to do is bridge the gap because it’s not the fault of the veteran when they served. They volunteered and served their country honorably.”
To be eligible for the funds, a peacetime veteran must have served at least two years and received an honorable discharge.
Mike Nations, a retired Marine and the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he supports the new fund. He noted he is a peacetime veteran not covered under Public Act 214.
He said of the current standards, “that kind of excludes quite a few veterans. For example, I served 14 years in the Marines before Desert Storm so I wouldn’t be eligible for that,” Nations said.
Reeve said there have been several instances in which emergency funds have helped save a veteran’s home from foreclosure. He said one of the hardest things he has to do is tell a veteran that because they served during peacetime they are ineligible for benefits.
“It’s one of the first criteria we look at. We have to by law. It’s absolutely horrible. I’m a veteran myself and served 24 years of active duty in the Army. When I was an E-4 raising two boys, on Wednesday I would go to the Episcopal church and on Saturday I would go to the Catholic church to get a bag of groceries. Even though I was on active duty I needed some additional assistance raising my two kids,” Reeve said.
There are about 5,000 veterans in Shiawassee County, according to Reeve. He’s not sure of that 5,000 how many are considered peacetime veterans because the VA does not make that distinction. He hopes with the establishment of the fund those numbers will become clearer.
The fund received support from different veterans groups, including the American Legion Post 57 in Owosso.
“I think it’s a good idea. The way I look at it is when they went in, they signed the same papers we all signed and could have been sent anywhere. When they signed up during peacetime they didn’t know how long that peace would last,” Legion Commander Gary Duehring said.