SIDNEY — During last week’s State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder placed a heavy focus on the unemployment rate for veterans in Michigan.
During Monday’s Legislative Luncheon at Montcalm Community College, local legislators kept focus on the issue.
“Our veterans do not have access to the opportunities that are available to them,” State Sen. Judy Emmons said. “We are last in the country for our veterans in Michigan accessing the programs that they have earned, that they have sacrificed for and we have to improve that.”
Emmons, R-Sheridan, currently serves on the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Homeland Security. She hopes to soon address the issues Snyder brought up in his speech last week.
In that speech, Snyder said, “Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, our unemployment rate was approximately 29 percent (in 2011). This isn’t right and we need to act. I encourage all employers to place a priority on hiring veterans.”
“We’re definitely going to be addressing some of those issues on the veterans affairs committee, which I serve on,” Emmons said. “That is very important because those programs are there for their benefit and we want them to be able to take advantage of that and we want to be able to make sure they are aware of them. If you know of veterans who need things, let us know and we’ll put them in contact with our local VFWs and our Legions.”
For State Rep. Rick Outman, a veteran, this is a very personal issue.
“In my mind, from a personal standpoint, I was a veteran,” he said. “I served in Beirut. My son served in Iraq and Afghanistan. From having gone oversees to being a parent of someone who has gone over, when you are willing to sacrifice so much to protect this county, I think it’s only right that when you come home, we are willing to give back to you.”
Outman, R-Six Lakes, said he is also in the early stages of putting together legislation that would make it easier for veterans to vote in local elections.
“It isn’t anything that’s real flashy or will make big headlines, but once I get the language written up and we have the bill in hand, it will be a bill that makes it easier,” he said. “Right now it’s pretty easy to vote for president and vice president, but that is not the case for veterans when dealing with local elections.”
Emmons and Outman both were pleased about ideas that were derived from Monday’s meeting, such as use of the new 211 phone aid system, in which someone could dial 211 asking for assistance to veterans.
“Moving forward, there’s going to be a lot of focus on veterans,” Outman said. “This isn’t something that we dealt with in 2011 because the economy was such a big issue. We needed to stimulate the economy and we think we’ve done that. We will continue to tweak it, but now we can focus on other issues such as those dealing with veterans.”