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MVAA leaders brief Biden administration on Michigan's service to veterans

Vice President Kamala Harris greets a Michigan delegation to the White House on Oct. 12, 2022, including MVAA Director Zaneta Adams (seated, third from right). Photo courtesy of White House.

Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency leaders on Wednesday briefed the Biden administration on Michigan’s successful efforts to serve veteran families and discussed the effect of federal initiatives such as veteran suicide prevention and the PACT Act.

MVAA Director Zaneta Adams and Erika Hoover, the agency’s women veterans and special populations coordinator, were invited to the White House along with other state and local officials as part of a Communities in Action – Building a Better Michigan event.

The group was greeted by Vice President Kamala Harris before participating in round table discussions with cabinet members including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor.

Adams noted that the PACT Act will have a major impact on improving the lives of many of Michigan’s 550,000-plus veterans. Officially known as the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, the new law increases eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures, including veterans of the Vietnam and Gulf War eras.

“One in every five veterans could potentially be eligible for PACT Act benefits, which equates to more than 100,000 veterans in Michigan,” Adams said. “Nonprofits and other organizations that may serve veterans should be aware of the PACT Act, as it may ultimately reduce the demand for some of their programs and services.”

Hoover described how she connected a Vietnam War veteran to a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) based on his exposure to Agent Orange. The veteran had prostate cancer and other health issues but was denied benefits because his cancer was in remission. He passed away in January 2022 and his death certificate listed a presumptive condition covered under the PACT Act. Hoover then went with the veteran’s widow to a VSO to get her claim submitted for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).

“It’s unfortunate the veteran couldn’t qualify for additional compensation while he was alive,” said Hoover, a Navy veteran. “But when the VA starts adjudicating claims for the PACT Act, at least his widow will have some help to care for their older child who has a disability and still lives at home.”

Through the MVAA’s partnership with the VA, Hoover got another former service member – a tribal veteran – lined up with a VA appointment. The veteran was connected to homeless services and Hoover said she expects his VA benefits to increase significantly due to his Vietnam War-era service.

The MVAA conducts all veteran-service efforts through the lens of suicide prevention. The more connected veterans are to benefits and resources, the more likely they are to thrive and avoid a crisis.

Adams, an Army veteran, leads the Michigan Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans and their Families – a coalition of more than 50 organizations working to break down the barriers veterans face in education, employment, health care and other areas.

The state’s veteran suicide prevention efforts will be bolstered with a new grant under the Biden administration. The MVAA was recently awarded $750,000 for fiscal year 2022 from the VA’s Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program. Organizations may apply to renew the grants each year for in the three-year program, meaning MVAA could receive up to $2.25 million from the VA for suicide prevention work.

Other Michigan veterans participating in the White House event included Marine veteran Kwan Tillman of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Army veteran Monique Baker McCormick, a Wayne County commissioner.