Ottawa County is blessed to be the home of hardworking Americans who love freedom. Our people have built a beautiful county with the resources to make our veterans a priority.
Shortly after entering office, a woman I greatly admire— wife of a veteran, former liaison between the Secretary of State and the Veterans Community Association (VCAT), and 3 term Michigan State Representative— Barb VanderVeen, expressed her concerns to me regarding a longstanding need to improve the county’s services for veterans. In following up on those concerns, gathering input from individuals who serve veterans, several commissioners came to believe more can and should be done.
Building the Ottawa County Department of Veterans Affairs (OCDVA) will allow Ottawa County to better care for veterans and their families. Hiring a Director for the department will allow for the creation of a strategic plan to increase outreach to veterans, provide greater development of strategic partnerships of government and private entities serving veterans, and ensure our veterans receive the services they need.
More than the Minimum
As shared in our earlier press release, while Ottawa County may provide the minimum service levels for veterans required by the state, this is not at all to say we should not do more. Nor is it discounting the value of the work that is already being done by the department.
If the county is to do only what is required, should this standard be applied to other departments?
Under the Department of Public Health, the Maternal Infant Health Program, Children’s Special Health Care Services, Miles for Smiles dental care for children, and Ottawa Food are not required or mandated services. Nearly $2M ($1.89M) of Ottawa County’s General Fund expenditures are proposed for these programs in 2024.
Are those opposed to expanding the Veteran’s Department by hiring a Director also advocating to close other non-mandated programs in the county?
I for one am not. Our county has been blessed with the resources to be able to fund these compassionate services, and I believe we should continue to fully fund them, as well as take on an expansion of services and support for our Veterans.
An Overwhelming Priority
I appreciate other commissioners may perceive their constituents are not favorable to supporting our war heroes. But I believe this is an error in judgment.
As our prior President reminded us, “…we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.”
This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. Truthfully, both parties have overlooked our county’s veterans in the past.
When this issue is put to voters, voters overwhelmingly choose to support veterans at a higher service level. Voters approved an additional millage to support Veterans Services in both Muskegon and Kent Counties, with 84% and 77% voter approval. Muskegon and Kent have FY23 budgets of $501K and $1.3M for their Veterans Services. Ottawa County is not proposing creating an additional millage, but simply considering providing an additional $224K from the existing General Fund to increase services for veterans.
Increase Equals 0.2% of General Fund Expenditures
The Ottawa County Department of Veterans Affairs (OCDVA) was recently awarded an increased County Veteran’s Service Fund grant for $161,501. The grant is intended to assist counties in establishing a County Department of Veterans Affairs, support new initiatives that connect veterans to federal benefits, and/or enhance or expand existing veteran service operations to connect veterans to their benefits. The increased grant, along with increased county investment from the General Fund, provide an opportunity to expand the County’s work on behalf of veterans.
Less than a year ago, the county allocated $57M in ARPA funds, with tens of millions going to non-profits, a housing finance fund out of Chicago, and bonuses for county employees, while internal county needs were overlooked. We are advocating for an increase of $224K from the General Fund for veterans, a mere 0.2% of the total fund expenditure of $109M for FY24, yet a huge step in doing more for those that were willing to give all.
It is distasteful to give speeches and hang wreaths to commemorate our heroes on Memorial Day, when we ignore and actively oppose providing practical support to our war heroes and their families while they are alive and here with us.
Veterans Over Contrarian Politics
Perhaps contrarian opposition to the OCDVA expansion is due to not having personally championed the effort— to not having the opportunity to score a political “win”. Or perhaps there are some who do not want commissioners who have been made out to be villains to be perceived as doing anything good for the people.
Multiple veterans and their families have shared their hardships and the need for help at Board meetings, and yet it is proposed that we answer our veterans with a $1K Department of Veterans Affairs sign so they can more easily find their way back to the same services which were unable to meet their needs in the first place.
If commissioners with compassion for veterans and their families are to be thrown under the bus for advocating for our veterans, so be it. It’s the least we can do for the heroes who have been willing to risk their lives for us.
We will continue to advocate for increased services for our Veterans and develop a responsible strategy to meet their needs. Numerous individuals have expressed their desire to be involved in this work, and we are excited to see what our community can do when we come together to strategically support our Veterans with county and community resources.