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VETERANS' SYNERGY: Program Aims to Benefit Workers, Ex-Offenders

Local Pilot Program Provides Model for New Interaction

April 3, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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"Why so much concern about military veterans?" my skeptical friend asked when I told him about the new Bay Veterans Foundation. "Do we really need another local charitable group?"

I didn't have to look far for answers to his questions. On my own computer was a report I did under a grant for Michigan State University's Regional Economic Innovation (REI) project last year.

The report suggested using returning military veterans -- who have received extensive training -- in mentoring, training and education of school dropouts, the unemployed and ex-offenders.

The report posited rationale for a new organization in Bay County and expanding it statewide: "Reduce unemployment and under-employment among the 642,000 Michigan veterans, an estimated 31,000 of whom are currently jobless (second highest rate in the nation, and an untold number of under-employed);

"Reduce unemployment and recidivism among the 14,000 ex-offenders released from the prison annually (most of whom cannot find jobs) and assist in reduction of the total prison population of 43,704 through incremental improvement in group attitudes about society as a whole and increase in desire through improved opportunities to become gainfully employed upon release; (A related benefit is reduction of the state's $2 billion annual cost of Corrections)"

"Train welfare recipients, using veterans as trainers, addressing the need for 48,750 workers in Michigan agriculture annually (only 250 of which are being filled through the federal H-2A immigration program, positively reversing the conventional thinking that farm labor is among "jobs Americans won't do" and reducing Michigan's $5.2 billion annual welfare cost drain on the state budget."

A pilot program was operated for two weeks last summer at the site of the USS Edson destroyer museum ship on the Saginaw River. Edson volunteers who are Vietnam veterans were among cadre who supervised a group of 12 unemployed men in cutting brush along the riverfront, clearing a river view for visitors to the Edson.

At the program's end, a job placement firm specialist came in to take applications and interview the participants. Most of them were placed in jobs as a result.

The Bay Veterans Foundation, headed by Vietnam veteran Keith Markstrom, former Bay Medical Foundation director, has begun to raise funds and involve community projects. A 12-member board includes mainly military veterans as well as community leaders.

On the drawing board here is a Maj. Gen. Merritt Edson Trade Academy that would aim to enroll adjudicated youth and dropouts from the Great Lakes Bay Region. The students would learn Marine Mechanics, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and would be inculcated with principles of the Congressional Medal of Honor Curriculum.

School administration and teaching staff of the Edson Academy would involve as many military veterans as possible. Opportunities to volunteer aboard the Edson would be offered as students progressed.

Jonna Irvin writes in STIR Journal: "In the combined efforts of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, almost 7,000 U.S. soldiers have died. More than 970,000 veteran disability claims have been registered with the Veterans Administration.

"Returning soldiers face higher unemployment rates than their civilian counterparts, particularly among male veterans age 21 to 24. Between 2009 and 2012, the youngest veterans had an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent, compared to 13.5 percent for civilians.

"Veterans struggle to find proper health care in a system ill-prepared for the number of wounded, particularly those with catastrophic injuries and mental health issues that require long-term care. Private nonprofit organizations have been picking up the slack left by inadequate funding in the federal budget."

So the stage is set and conditions are right for a new program to marry the experience and training of Bay County's 9,000 veterans with the thousands of dropouts, unemployed or under-employed youth and ex-offenders. If this sounds good to you, please contact the Bay Veterans Foundation to volunteer.


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
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