Jan 29, 2009
County GOP gives lip service to Support the Troops slogan
I wish I had a dollar for every time a Republican accused anyone who opposed the unnecessary Iraq invasion of not supporting the troops.
But when it comes down to actually supporting the troops, it's just a campaign slogan for the GOP. The recent action by all Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners demonstrated that fact. Because of budget constraints, the board of commisioners is not replacing the director and the administrative assistant at the Livingston County Veterans Affairs Department when they retire at the end of February. The VA county department only has three employees; the third one being a counselor.
Current director Bob Heinel presented a plan earlier this week to the board's Health and Human Services Committee to replace him, and a very emotional Heinel said the office is “headed towards catastrophe." I, like Bob Heinel, am a veteran, and I worked with him when I covered the county for the county's daily newspaper. I know how dedicated he is, and how involved in veteran's affairs he is. Not just officially, but he is at the ceremony to add new names to the Veteran's Memorial in downtown Howell, presides at the annual awards dinner and at the Veterans Day ceremony.
The department helps veterans and their families and survivors in the county in filing out the sometimes complex claims for all federal, state, county and other benefits to which they may be entitled. It also administers the county operation of the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund and county Veterans Relief Fund to assist veterans and their dependants with financial emergencies, and the county Veterans Burial Fund to help provide an honorable burial for veterans and their spouses. Some of this complex paperwork and appeal process to get the benefits veterans are entitled to can take months and even years.
In 2007 alone they provided assistance to some 5,000 veterans. The Iraq war has really increased the workload. Those veterans need readjustment assistance, including claims and treatment for PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other disabilities. Livingston County has had a soldier killed in Iraq every year since 2003 up until 2007 and 2008. We have lost more soldiers in Iraq than the 12 years of hostilities in Vietnam. The downturn in the economy, layoffs and foreclosures means veterans need help even more. This decision comes on the heels of news that suicides among soldiers in the U.S. Army rose to its highest level in decades.
When these services are most needed, why are we cutting back on them? Perhaps it's so the Livingston County Republican Party can put billboards up along I-96 that brag the county has the lowest county tax rate among Michigan's 83 counties. That is true, but we also have none of the services that other counties enjoy. The heavy snowfall this winter has really demonstrated what kind of havoc cutbacks in snow plowing can cause.
The Board of Commissioners has floated a couple of options to keep the department going. Those include partnering with neighboring Washtenaw County, shifting duties to other departments or raising taxes. We know the third option is out of the question.
Let's look at partnering with Washtenaw. Michigan is losing population, but not Livingston and Washtenaw. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Livingston has a population of 184,000 people. Since the 2000 Census, the population of Livingston County has grown at a rate of 17 percent. That makes it the fastest growing county in the state. Washtenaw County has a population of 352,000, and it has grown 9.3 percent since the last Census.
The bottom line is when the need for help for veterans is growing and the population is growing, we are cutting back on services and limiting access. So much for supporting the troops, and all so the GOP can lay claim to the title of lowest county taxes in the state so the local GOP can put up billboards touting that fact.
The Board of Commissioners will meet at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 to discus the issue.