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Michigan veterans from all backgrounds tell their stories

Michigan is launching an outreach and awareness campaign for military veterans and their dependents that will document individual stories and connect veterans to the benefits and resources they earned for their service.

The campaign — “I Served. I Am a Veteran” — highlights the adversities and triumphs of Michigan veterans from all eras and backgrounds as they move through each chapter of their lives. By engaging more veterans, the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) aims to link them to the benefits that will help them thrive and avoid the issues that can lead to suicidal ideation.

Funded by the State of Michigan, the campaign is part of a larger effort to prevent veteran suicide by Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration. The governor’s budget includes $1.2 million in veteran suicide prevention funding.

“Veteran suicide remains a persistent problem in Michigan and across the nation,” said Governor Whitmer. “Together, we must have our veterans’ backs and address the issues that can lead to suicidal ideation, including homelessness, unemployment, PTSD, and lack of quality health care. By engaging our veterans and sharing their stories, we can get them the care and services they need. Let’s get it done for our fellow Michiganders who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Veterans’ stories are being shared at, in TV and radio advertising and on social media. Among the first veterans featured: a Latino combat veteran who survived a suicide attempt, a Marine veteran who advocates for his fellow tribal veterans on their Upper Peninsula reservation and a Coast Guard veteran who overcame harassment and is now thriving as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Another featured veteran, Sapphire Pates, flew dozens of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan as a man before transitioning to a woman after completing her service in the Air Force. At age 54, Pates is just now signing up for VA health care, proving it’s never too late for veterans to acquire their earned benefits.

“I think a lot of people don’t know exactly what to do when it comes to signing up for benefits,” Pates said. “I’m hoping to help other people through my role in this campaign.”

MVAA Director Adam Hollier said the campaign supports the agency’s mission of serving all veterans, by recognizing how age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or other diverse backgrounds impacted their service. Veterans can inquire about their earned benefits by calling the MVAA at 1-800-MICH-VET.

“Our military members have not always been treated fairly while serving their country or as veterans afterward,” said Hollier, who’s also a captain and a paratrooper in the Army Reserve. “My grandfather was accepted into the Army pilot program during World War II because they thought he was white. When they realized he was a Black man, he was summarily dismissed. My promise to Michigan’s 530,000-plus veterans and their families is that the MVAA will work hard to connect each and every one of you to your earned benefits regardless of your background.”

Veterans of all backgrounds and eras are encouraged to tell their stories. Dependents of veterans are also encouraged to tell their loved one’s story. To submit a story, fill out this nomination form and send it to

If you're a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention 24/7/365. Call 988 and press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at