190 E. Michigan Avenue, Suite 397B
Battle Creek, MI 49014
||8:30 am - 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday
||Kristina Higgins, Service Officer
The Calhoun County Veterans' Affairs office is a dynamic, multifaceted service provider specifically designed for veterans and their families. There are four specific areas that demarcate the veterans' affairs office: federal benefits and programs, emergency assistance benefits, county burial benefits, and competent advocacy by the staff. The Calhoun County Veterans Affairs office objective, then, can be summed up by the following: We provide a medium of communication between the veteran and those benefits and services he/she or his/her family may be eligible for. To maintain the integrity of this objective, the Calhoun County Veterans' Affairs office staff continuously educates themselves by actively pursuing knowledge of veterans laws, attending conferences and seminars specifically designed for county veterans counselors, and engaging in a proactive approach to inform Calhoun County veterans of the benefits and programs available to them.
Federal Benefits and Programs
First, the office serves as a medium between the veteran and the federal benefits he/she may be due. For example, the staff must continually research changes in federal laws pertaining to veterans benefits and eligibility. Moreover, the staff must also research precedent decisions rendered by federal appeals courts adjudicating veterans claims. Knowledge of the Code of Federal Regulations 38 is vital to the success of a veteran' s claim. Because the Department of Veterans Affairs requires that each claim be substantiated by applicable evidence, our office assumes the responsibility for evidence gathering which, in some instances, may date back 50 years. Effective advocacy with regards to federal claims and benefits must incorporate a willingness to actively investigate, interpret, and incorporate those applicable rules and regulations that may have a bearing on a veteran's claim. As a result, given the financial and emotional stakes associated with federal claims, there is a dedication to the understanding of the claims process that must ensue before an advocate can effectively counsel a veteran.
The second element of the veterans' affairs office entails emergency relief. The Calhoun County Veterans Affairs office is the host for the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund. This state driven fund is unique in that Michigan is the only state in the union to have such a program. The purpose of the fund is to provide emergency assistance to veterans and their families in the event of unforeseen hardship. The most apparent hurdle in eligibility is that the veteran must have at least 180 days of wartime or wartime era service. Those veterans who do not meet this criteria are, then, referred to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Relief Fund. This county driven fund rests on the same premise as the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund, but, by law, requires only one day of wartime or wartime era service or have been awarded a military expeditionary medal. When possible, veterans who meet the criteria of eligibility for the Veterans Trust Fund are encouraged to utilize that program instead of the Soldiers' and Sailors Relief Fund due to the Trust Fund' s greater availability of funds. Both programs, however, are not intended to sustain a veteran' s lifestyle and should be used as a last resort.
County Burial Benefits
The third element of the veterans’ affairs office entails county funded burial allowances to eligible veterans and their spouses. To be eligible for this program, the veteran must have served in a war or during a defined wartime period. Whether the veteran was single or married at the time of death, then he/she must not have been worth more than $40,000 in assets excluding the value of the home. The most important hurdle for burial eligibility is the veteran and/or spouse must have been a resident of Calhoun County for a period of 6 months. While this program does not come close to paying the average cost of funeral expenses, it does offset some of the costs in a redistribution of county tax dollars. Coupled with the county burial benefit is the Headstone Setting Reimbursement of $65.00. To be eligible for this program, the veteran must be buried at a private cemetery and must have incurred the cost of setting a headstone or marker.
The fourth element to the Calhoun County Veterans' Affairs office entails competent advocacy by the staff on behalf of the veteran. When a veteran comes to our office, he/she expects knowledgeable, honest input or counseling. The director and service officer must work in a cooperative manner that places veterans services as the highest priority. Whether the veteran simply wants information regarding the nearest homeless shelter or if the veteran wants to initiate a compensation claim, the staff must understand no veterans benefit is more important than that benefit being asked for at that time. In other words, a compensation claim that is worth $2,100 per month if awarded at 100% is no more important than a veteran who needs to obtain their Service Discharge paperwork. Effective advocacy must incorporate a willingness to cross various coordinates of diversity and educational levels. From the veteran who needs assistance filing a claim to the widow who just lost her husband, our ability to communicate determines our ability to be effective veterans advocates.