May 20, 2009

Rightwing blogs misrepresenting veterans protest

LANSING – Veterans groups will rally on the Capitol steps at 3:30 p.m. Thursday to protest cuts made to the Veterans Service Organization (VSO) grants in the current budget and the complete elimination of the VSO in the 2010 budget that begins Oct. 1.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved an Executive Order earlier this month that cut $389 million in spending from the current budget. The cuts include across the board cuts to every state department of at least 4 percent, cutting more than 200 state jobs, requiring at least six unpaid furlough days by state workers and cuts to local governments of more than $41 million. What made the cuts so difficult is that there are only four months left of the fiscal year and most of the funds have already been spent.

Local veterans groups are upset that $1 million was cut from the $4.1 million VSO budget, and they are also protesting Senate Bill 250 that appropriates the money for the department for the fiscal year 2010. The Governor’s proposed budget allocates $4 million for the VSO grants, but SB 250 completely deletes that money and it transfers it to the Veterans Affairs Directorate that is responsible for managing the administrative functions of the Michigan Veterans' Trust Fund.

Rightwing groups and blogs are spinning the story as a protest against Gov. Jennifer Granholm while completely ignoring the role of Sen. Valde Garcia, R-Howell, the sponsor of SB 250 and the chair of the State Police and Military Affairs Appropriations Sub-Committee. It was his idea to delete the money for the VSO grants and transfer it to the Veterans Affairs Directorate.

I would ask why are they going after the Governor and not Garcia, but I know the answer to that one.

I personally know Garcia, and like me, he is a veteran. I know he believes he is doing the right thing that will benefit veterans, and he may be right. But it makes no sense to attack just the governor.

The VSO grants are used to fund benefit counselors in the county veteran’s offices, and these councilors help veterans wade through the complex rules to get the benefits they deserve. Apparently, Garcia wants more control over how the money is spent, and that is the reason for the move.

SB 250 was passed favorably out of the Appropriations Sub-Committee on April 1 to the Senate floor and it is awaiting action. Apparently, Sen. Dennis Olshove, D-Warren, is planning to intruding an amendment to the bill when it is debated on the Senate floor that will restore the money to the VSO.

Many veterans will already be in town for the 14th Annual Veteran's Memorial on May 21 to mark Memorial Day, and it should be well attended.

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