The West Michigan Veterans Coalition (WMVC) has come a long way since 2009, when six service organizations came together to plan for a local Veterans’ Stand Down. The Stand Down focused on getting resources and services for homeless Veterans in Kent County. Four years later, the coalition was chosen to be a part of a statewide initiative with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA) and Altarum Institute to implement the “no wrong door” Veteran Community Action Team (VCAT). The WMVC has grown to more than 83 state and local Veterans’ agencies that share information on resources and programs for education, employment, health care, and quality of life.
The MVAA strategic plan dedicates the state Veterans’ agency to improving services for Veterans in four focus areas: employment, education, health care, and quality of life. The WMVC took several important steps that were designed to maintain a focus on the needs of the community while aligning with the MVAA’s four focus areas. The coalition created an advisory board to oversee organizational improvements and maintain the mission to serve Veterans. Having an advisory board has been an important part of driving the advancement of the coalition. For example, to truly understand Veterans’ needs within the community, the advisory board created four subcommittees focusing on identifying barriers, resources, and programs within education, employment, health care, and quality of life. So far the subcommittees have presented to the broad coalition membership on Veterans’ benefits, post-traumatic stress disorder, Veterans’ treatment courts, and employment. This has helped educate providers about issues and services in areas with which they are often not that familiar.
The WMVC role is to inform and connect Veterans and service providers in the community with information, tools, and at times advocacy to help facilitate assistance. For example, the Quality of Life Subcommittee identified the need for a Veteran treatment court (VTC) in Kent County. With the impact of war on Veterans, mental health issues are often compounded by substance abuse, unemployment, and homelessness and can ultimately lead to incarceration. Very often, Veterans do not get the help that they need until they hit rock bottom. The subcommittee realized that with all the resources that Grand Rapids has to offer, it was too bad that veterans identified in the court system to be eligible to access a VTC were sent to smaller county courts with fewer local resources. Currently, the coalition is working with several key supporting judges who have stepped forward to support a VTC in Kent County and are willing to make the investment in our Veterans. Our role will be to support the judges with resources and peer-to-peer mentors working with the Veterans to ensure successful graduation from the program. All four coalition subcommittees are working with an array of Veterans’ issues and doing their best to help with the advocacy for Veterans and their families.
The West Michigan Veterans Coalition is moving toward becoming a sustainable, integrated VCAT that addresses the challenges that Veterans face. The coalition has been looking toward the community to help identify gaps in services, identify better tools to perform outreach, and spread accurate information to Veterans and service providers throughout West Michigan. The WMVC mission has not changed since the beginning. We are a network dedicated to enhancing services to the brave men and women in our community who were willing to risk their lives and well-being in service to their country.