Serving those who have served

LANSING — Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and state veterans advocates today announced several initiatives to assist the more than 650,000 military veterans who live in Michigan, including a proposal to put a veteran designation on their driver’s license or ID card to better link veterans with the services they’ve earned.

“Michigan veterans have put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms,” Johnson said. “In return, we must do more as a state to serve those who have served and ensure that when they enter civilian life, they have the resources available to succeed. Placing a veteran designation on driver’s licenses and ID cards will help connect veterans with the resources they deserve.”

The designation allows the Secretary of State’s Office to partner with the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and veteran service organizations across the state to provide referral information to veterans so they better know what resources and services are available to them. Additional information also will be made available to veterans in the 131 Secretary of State offices throughout the state.

“We appreciate the opportunity to partner with Secretary Johnson and the veteran services organizations,” said Jason Allen, senior deputy director for veterans affairs for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “The designation also allows veterans to take advantage of private-sector discounts.

Johnson and DMVA leaders will work with lawmakers to have this change written into law. Under the proposal, veterans who want the designation would provide the Secretary of State’s Office with proof of an honorable discharge.

Johnson and Allen announced the proposal at a press conference at the state Capitol in Lansing. They were joined by representatives of the American Legion Department of Michigan; Sen. John Moolenaar, chairman of the Senate Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee; Rep. Jim Stamas, chairman of the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs; Garth Wootten, a Navy veteran and division manager for Oakland County Veterans’ Services; and other lawmakers and veterans advocates.

Another initiative announced today calls for the creation of a new fundraising license plate to benefit Michigan veterans, Johnson said. The department will work with the DMVA and service organizations to develop a design and determine which programs would receive revenue from sales of the plate.

“Leaving military service for civilian life can be a confusing, difficult process for some veterans,” said Patrick Lafferty, the American Legion state adjutant. “We strongly support giving new veterans a better system for learning about and accessing the programs available to assist them. Their service to our nation has earned these services.”

Johnson also provided details of a new law that will allow recently returned military veterans with large truck driving experience to skip the skills test portion of Michigan’s commercial driver license application process. Johnson said the waiver cuts red tape and will help move veterans into jobs more quickly when they return from service.

Gov. Rick Snyder in his recent State of the State address noted that Michigan veterans rank last per capita in receiving federal dollars for veterans’ benefits. Snyder signed an executive order, effective March 20, creating the Michigan Veteran Affairs Agency within the DMVA to serve as a centralized, coordinating unit in state government that will connect veterans to services and benefits.