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Michigan’s Veteran Service Officers come together for inaugural conference
November 15, 2023
From left, Tony Atkinson of the Michigan Association of County Veterans Counselors, Gary Easterling of the Michigan Veterans Coalition and Todd Butler of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency share the stage at the first statewide VSO conference.
Michigan’s first statewide training conference for Veteran Service Officers (VSOs) was a grassroots effort that brought together three major veterans’ organizations with a joint goal of improving service for veterans and their families.
The Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency (MVAA), the Michigan Veterans Coalition (MVC) and the Michigan Association of County Veterans Counselors (MACVC) partnered to host the two-day conference last month in Gaylord. The collaboration shows how far the organizations have come in working together to support veterans, said Todd Butler, MVAA’s strategic outreach director. Butler was flanked on the conference stage by Gary Easterling, chair of the MVC, and Tony Atkinson, president of the MACVC.
“It doesn’t matter if you work for the state, for one of the service organizations or for the counties, we’re all in this fight together,” Butler said. “We have one mission in mind, one consolidated effort, and that is to provide services for the veterans and the families of veterans that call Michigan home.”
The 150 VSOs and veteran advocates who gathered for the Oct. 26-27 conference heard timely updates on topics ranging from VA compensation exams to veteran-centric state and federal legislation to how Medicare and Medicaid affect VA benefits. There was also a Veterans Board of Appeals mock hearing with Nathaniel Doen, a Veterans Law Judge from Washington, D.C.
Veterans Law Judge Nathaniel Doen holds a mock VA appeals hearing based on an actual case. Thomas Kaiser of the American Legion plays the part of the veteran and Maureen Adams of Berrien County plays his VSO.
The VSOs who work for the various counties and veterans’ organizations recover hundreds of millions of dollars in federal compensation every year for Michigan veterans. But there are still tens of thousands of veterans across the state who have yet to tap into their earned benefits. The organizations that employ VSOs are working to better reach veterans and their families across the state and get them connected to these resources.
MICHIGAN VETERANS AFFAIRS AGENCY
Stefanie MacDonald, MVAA’s new VSO manager, talks to Charles Schmidt, a VSO for Wexford County.
The MVAA recently created a new position to support its Veterans Service Officer program: Stefanie MacDonald, who has worked in the veteran-provision space for more than 20 years, is the agency’s first VSO manager. In addition, Jason Zdunek, a longtime VSO based in Marquette, is now the training and accountability analyst for the agency’s VSO program.
To learn about connecting to a Veteran Service Officer, contact the MVAA at 1-800-MICH-VET or use our Find a Veteran Service Officer search function. The search tool includes a long list of VSOs from the MVAA, the counties and the Veteran Service Organizations.
MICHIGAN VETERANS COALITION
Rodney Bowens of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) asks a question during the first statewide VSO conference. DAV is part of the Michigan Veterans Coalition.
The MVC is a collaboration between the Michigan chapters of the four major Veteran Service Organizations: American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America. The MVC recently launched a new website, miveteranbenefits.org, and a central phone number, 1-833-648-3826, that make it easy for veterans to contact a VSO within one of the service organizations.
MICHIGAN ASSOCIATION OF COUNTY VETERANS COUNSELORS
Jared Gale, a Veteran Service Officer from Ogemaw County, discusses a veterans’ benefit issue.
The MACVC represents the Veteran Service Officers employed by the counties throughout Michigan. Their mission: assist veterans and their families in obtaining any and all state and federal benefits to which they are entitled. These benefits could include VA disability compensation, emergency financial assistance through the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund and county Veterans Relief Fund, death benefits and more. Learn more at macvc.net.