Thursday, Jun 30, 2016
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Monroe service site for veterans in struggle to stay open

MONROE Agnes McBain is feeling pretty good this week.

Efforts to keep the veterans service center she operates on South Monroe Street have been successful for now.

I know we re going to last a few more months, she said.

Several canister drives to collect money last week netted $2,229, and several area churches and United Auto Workers locals kicked in another $4,000, giving the Southeastern Michigan Veterans Service Center, which appeared ready to close earlier this month, some breathing room.

We re not out of the woods yet, Ms. McBain said.

The center, which opened in 1990, was one of six such centers opened statewide by Vietnam veterans. In the early years, the centers received federal funding. But then the funding dried up, and the centers were left to survive on their own. The Monroe center is the only one remaining.

Ms. McBain said the center helps veterans and their family members file for disability claims and other benefits. The center also houses up to six veterans on its second floor and occasionally provides nonperishable food to hungry veterans. The center used to offer almost daily transportation to the veterans hospital in Ann Arbor, but that service ceased when the driver died. Now the center offers a ride to the Ann Arbor hospital every Tuesday.

In its last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the center had 1,203 vets turn up for help, took 6,269 phone calls, and won claims that brought in $1.4 million for its clients. All of this was accomplished with a staff of one Ms. McBain and several volunteers, usually veterans staying at the center.

Ms. McBain said the numbers show that the center serves a crucial role in the community. Similar services are offered at federal veterans offices in the area, but the process often is slower and more difficult because of the large numbers of veterans applying for the services.

She said money is so tight she can t afford to pay herself.

I m laid off, she said.

Meanwhile, the office has cut its hours to three days a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in an effort to further curtail costs.

Ms. McBain said she appreciates the support she has received from various groups and individuals, but rather than a stop-gap approach she s looking for a long-term solution, such as securing a federal grant. That will require help from city or county officials, who have grant application experience

Joseph Vitale, an Army and Navy veteran who sits on the UAW executive board at DaimlerChrysler s Flat Rock, Mich., facility and is a UAW Regional 1A veterans council officer, said he has talked with Monroe officials about helping the service center with grant applications.

It is a very significant operation for the community and for all veterans, past, present, and future, he said.

He said that a canister drive will take place Monday at the Flat Rock plant.

We ll continue to do whatever we can for as long as we can, Mr. Vitale said.

Contact George Tanber at gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.

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