KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County voters will decide Nov. 7 whether to approve a millage that would raise about $1 million annually to fund veterans services.
The millage proposal would benefit the Veterans Service Office, which is available to help more than 12,000 veterans living in Kalamazoo County.
It helped Brian Cody, a retired sergeant with the U.S. Army National Guard, 100% disability coverage. The Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient was medically retired and honorably discharged following two tours in the Middle East.
“It was the first time that I had dealt with a (veterans service officer) who had stuck there, who was still there, who was still willing to help at all costs,” Cody said.
He explained that filing claims without that help was nearly impossible.
“You come home, you get spit out and shot out: ‘Thank you for your service,'” Cody explained. “If there’s nobody there to help you and you got to do it yourself, that’s frustrating.”
Michael Fry, campaign co-chair and treasurer for Yes for Vets, the group supporting the millage, said that right now, the county sends about $300,000 to the Veterans Services Office each year.
About $50,000 of that goes to help veterans pay for food, housing and utilities. But the office has used up those dollars quickly in recent years — this year, for example, it was gone by March 6. Fry suggested the increased demand can be traced back to the pandemic, economy and inflation rate, and also because the office has done more outreach so veterans know about the resources it offers. So for the last two years, the office used federal American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus relief dollars to supplement its aid.
“For instance, so far in 2023, we’ve provided more than $215,000 in financial relief for food, housing, and utilities,” Fry told News 8.
But the ARPA money is about to be discontinued.
Fry said the millage and the $1 million it would raise each year would close the services gap, ensure the office is properly funded and allow it to expand.
“That’s providing financial assistance with food, housing, utilities, transportation, dental, hearing and vision benefits. Also, being able to properly staff that office so they can do outreach activities,” Fry said.
If the proposal passes, the 10-year millage would increase by 0.1 mil, which would cost taxpaying homeowners with a market value of $200,000 around $10 more per year.
“That’s less than a dollar per month,” Fry explained. “We’re basically asking someone that’s going into town to do some grocery shopping (to) give up that Starbucks coffee cup just one Saturday per year to be able to help fund our Veterans Service Office, so they can provide year-round benefits and services for our local veterans and their families.”
Cody added, “To be able to fund a person that could be there five days a week, four days a week, whatever it is — to know that Kalamazoo County veterans will have a guy there, that’s huge.”
If the millage does not pass, Fry said some services could be suspended after annual county funding runs out.