LANSING — Michigan's secretary of state announced her support Wednesday for establishing special identification cards that would give the state's 670,000 military veterans discounts on stores and hotels and other benefits, part of the administration's larger effort to make the veterans more aware of resources available to them.
Ruth Johnson said placing the specialized designation on driver's licenses and identification cards would make it easier on veterans, who currently must carry discharge papers to prove their service.
It will allow the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and county veteran service officers better identify veterans and reach out to them about available services, she said. Aaron Jenkins, public information officer for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said it would provide the department with more complete and up-to-date contact information for veterans.
The veteran's identification plan was recently introduced in a bill by lawmakers and Johnson said her office will work with them to see that it is written into law.
While Michigan has the nation's 11th highest population of veterans, the state ranks dead last in federal money spent per person on services provided through the U.S. Veterans Administration, including medical treatment and employment assistance.
Garth Wootten, a Navy veteran and president of the Michigan Association of County Veterans' Counselors, said at the press conference veterans often don't seek services until they are in "crisis mode." He said these initiatives will help the state be "more proactive, rather than reactive."
Veteran Lloyd Kramer, of Harbor Beach, who served in the Navy for 3½ years during Vietnam, said that while it is "slowly happening" he is "impressed they are actually getting something done."
The Secretary of State's Office also plans to partner with the new Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency, which will begin operating March 20, the 10th anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. Gov. Rick Snyder signed an executive order in January creating the new state agency within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The agency will work to connect individual veterans with government officials and help navigate bureaucracy.
Johnson said 131 Secretary of State branch offices across the state will work with the new agency to get information about benefits "directly into the hands" of veterans.
Michigan has also recently received VA accreditation to act on behalf of veterans, which will provide the Veterans Affairs Agency access to federal databases and the authority to oversee processing of individual cases.
With the "thousands of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan" the outreach to the Secretary of State offices throughout the state will be "invaluable," said Jason Allen, senior deputy director for veterans affairs in Michigan's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Johnson also laid out plans to work with veteran groups to design a special license plate to raise money to fund veterans' programs in Michigan.