State Bar of Michigan
Committee on Justice Initiatives and Equal Access Initiative Disabilities Project
Volume 5, Issue 3, September 2009
Disabilities Project Newsletter
Disabled Veterans: Serving Those Who Served
by William B. Milzarski, Rights Specialist for Michigan's Disability Concerns Commission
The American soldier has risen to almost mythic proportions in our culture. Some civilians may be against one military action or another, but no one is against the American soldier. This social standing is well deserved due to the difficulty of earning the title. Our five armed forces defend and carry out the will of our nation. However, once the yellow ribbon fades and the parades are lost in memories, these men and women, on a daily basis, live with the costs of serving our nation.
Michigan has approximately 750,000 veterans. Of those, 87,000 receive some type of disability compensation or pension. The Veterans Administration (VA) expends more than $1.65 BILLION to all veterans each year for health care, education, compensation, and other programs. That is a very large number. But remember, these benefits are never casually given away. They are not entitlements programs; they are earned with blood, sweat, and tears through years of dutiful service to our nation and following the oath given at enlistment. The Veterans Administration has an oath as well “to care for him who shall have borne the battle” (President Lincoln’s second inaugural address).
As an attorney, do you know what your disabled veteran client earned from the VA? Is he or she receiving those repayments in services he or she earned? How do you know? The following is a general overview of many programs and services available to veterans with disabilities.
Federal Civil Right Laws
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing laws apply to veterans with disabilities. These laws prohibit discrimination against a person due to his/her disability. For instance, a veteran who lost an arm in Operation Enduring Freedom was fired from her job due to her not being able to “do the job anymore.” The ADA and other laws may apply to require the employer to look into reasonable accommodations to keep the veteran employed. Another federal law is the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. It protects the jobs of active duty service members while they are serving. So a National Guardsman can serve for two years in Afghanistan and come home to find the job he left is waiting for him.
The Department of Labor (DOL) and VA both serve veterans of the five military branches. The DOL has many services that educate and employ veterans. The VA offers a broad range of services to the disabled veteran. For any veteran with a service-connected disability, the VA sends a monthly disability compensation check. A veteran who has a service-connected diabetic condition may receive medical care and $2,000 a month. Other health services include medical care and medications. A veteran with a service-connected disability has care, but the non-service connected disabled veteran may also receive medical assistance depending on his income and other factors. Another program is based on the “other” factors of a disability. A veteran with a hand loss may receive vehicle modifications to his car. This also applies to homes, hand rails, and wheelchair ramps that may be built and paid for by the VA.
The VA also has a home loan program. This program seeks to assist veterans in home ownership, and given the current foreclosure problems nationwide, the protections the VA offers to its veterans is essential. The VA may require a mortgage company to seek alternative methods rather than foreclosure—such as loan modifications.
The VA and the DOL both have employment programs to train and educate veterans. Disabled veterans can attend a university and also receive a monthly stipend for living costs. Lastly, the VA will assist in the burial of a veteran.
The State of Michigan has a large number of programs that parallel the federal programs. The programs work to employ and educate the veteran. The rehabilitation and advocacy agencies of the State are there to assist the disabled veteran. There are county veteran service officers that will help a disabled veteran apply for VA services. The Michigan Veterans Trust Fund and Soldiers Relief Commission also help veterans in need. The State has a booklet that encompasses the federal and state programs available online at www.legislature.mi.gov/
While this e-newsletter may not address all the services earned, there are many websites that provide valuable information. I highly encourage you as an attorney to identify if your client is a veteran and if he or she knows what benefits they are entitled to. The state publication is an excellent reference document to have on hand.
Previous editions of this newsletter are online.
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