With a little help…

Marquette County Department of Veterans Affairs recipient of $32K in grants in 24 months

Marquette County Commissioner Gerald Corkin, left, poses with Marquette County Department Affairs Advisory Board member George LaBlonde III, and Marquette County Veterans Affairs Officer Craig Salo in front of the 2009 Ford Explorer donated to the MCDVA by the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 22 in 2015. The vehicle can be used by volunteers to medical appointments as well as for MCDVA business. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

Editor’s note: This story is the fourth in a month-long series of articles highlighting the work of the Marquette County Veterans Affairs Department and its impact on Marquette County veterans and their families.

ISHPEMING — Taking care of local veterans is a community effort that extends from county, state and federal agencies as well as a variety of local organizations.

This concept has not been lost on the Marquette County Department of Veterans Affairs and its five-member committee who have worked tirelessly to make the most efficient use of tax dollars to help roughly 6,000 veterans who live here.

In fact, the MCDVA has successfully applied for and received more than $32,000 during the past 24 months under the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency County Incentive Grant Program.

County Incentive Grants, which were a part of Michigan Public Act 252 of 2014, are awarded to counties looking to create local departments of veterans affairs, hire additional accredited benefits counselors or upgrade or invest in new technology, according to a 2016 MVAA press release.

The grants make it easier for veterans to access the services county veterans affairs agencies provide, by increasing the ability of those agencies to hire staff and improve technology at county offices.

MVAA Director for Targeted Outreach Rob Price said in a 2016 press release that the County Incentive Grant Program creates partnership with counties throughout the state to provide better service to Michigan’s veterans.

“There are veterans in every county in Michigan, and we want to make it as convenient as possible for each of them to apply for their federal benefits,” Price said. “It can be a complicated process, but county veterans counselors are trained to help veterans through it.”

The MVAA grant program has had a positive impact on the MCDVA’s ability to assist Marquette County veterans, according to Marquette County Veterans Affairs Service Officer Craig Salo.

MCDVA was awarded a $20,000 full-time service officer grant in 2015, a $10,000 part-time service officer grant in 2016, and a vehicle maintenance grant of just over $2,000 in 2017.

George LaBlonde III, a U.S. Army veteran and chairman of the Marquette County Veterans Affairs Committee, said Salo’s ability to coordinate between the committee, the county administrator and the MVAA regional coordinator in order to maximize grant opportunities to best serve the veterans within Marquette County has been outstanding.

“We are extremely appreciative of the grants we havevr received to date,” LaBlonde said. “Our county service officer and the veterans committee take our collective responsibilities to best utilize tax payer’s monies very seriously. The grants that we receive from the state of Michigan help reduce the burden on our county taxpayers and I think that we can all agree that this is a good news story.”

LaBlonde said that some of the grant money had been earmarked to support modifications to the department’s office and entrance, exterior sign, and support to general operations within the department.

U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Tracey Tippitt, who is a member of the MCDVA committee as well as a finance sub-committee member, said members had worked closely with Salo in all aspects of the grant application process.

“The key to securing the MVAA grants has been good communication and follow-up,” Tippitt said. “The benefit of this grant program is making sure that our veterans come first.”

Tippett said the committee hopes to secure a technology grant through the MVAA in 2018, which would allow the MCDVA to purchase updated video monitors, a more modern fax machine and other items that would support the transfer of information from the MCDVA office to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for claims processing.

One of the key struggles for veterans in addition to navigating the sometimes complex processes and forms required to collect benefits is transportation to and from medical appointments.

In addition to the MVAA grants, LaBlonde said, the department also received an invaluable donation from the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 22: a 2009 Ford Explorer.

“The DAV raises money to purchase a new vehicle every four years to support the volunteer transportation network,” LaBlonde said.

The VTN transports veterans from the Jacobetti Home and throughout Marquette County to their medical appointments VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain, LaBlonde said.

“DAV Chapter 22 donated their old vehicle to ensure that the new department would have a dedicated vehicle on site to best take care of veterans,” LaBlonde said, “without impacting the taxpayers.”

Salo said he sees the benefit of the DAV’s generous donation every day.

“We have used the vehicle to transport veterans to critical appointments at the VA Clinic in Marquette, conducted intake for VA claims in the homes of veterans with serve mobility issues, and participated in multiple Veteran Community Action Team conferences across the central U.P.,” Salo said. “The vehicle has truly provided the flexibility to support veterans across the county and we are forever grateful to DAV Chapter 22.”

Veterans and their families are encouraged to contact the Marquette County Veterans Affairs Department at 906-485-1781 or send an email to csalo@mqtco.org for more information.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.