LANSING — Michigan’s veterans and their dependents would see improved access to long-term care and new state-of-the-art facilities under bipartisan reform legislation introduced in the Senate and House on Wednesday.

“Our veterans have valiantly served our state and nation and deserve the best possible care,” said state Senator Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell). “This legislation will transform our existing veterans’ health care system and invest in critical new building projects in order to replace our existing, aging facilities.”

The proposal would establish the Michigan Veterans’ Facility Authority to begin the process of establishing new veterans’ facilities in the state. The authority would work in partnership with the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA). MVAA would continue for the time being in its role of managing the existing facilities in Grand Rapids and Marquette. Over time the new authority would take on additional responsibilities at the existing locations so that eventually the entire Michigan Veteran Health System (MVHS) would be under the authority.

This new legislation builds upon improvements that have already been made at the MVAA and MVHS, following a Michigan Office of the Auditor General audit that revealed significant problems at the home in Grand Rapids.

“Strides have been made to improve conditions for veterans and their families at the state homes, but more can be done to ensure their safety, quality of care, and in expanding housing options,” said Representative Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan). “Health care and services are very complex issues at any level, and our recent experience shows Michigan needs more than a simple facility-manager approach as its primary system at the homes.

“Enacting an authority board with trained, knowledgeable health care experts, people focused on elder services and those with an eye to expanding care option possibilities for veterans across our state can help make Michigan a champion for veteran care in the nation as it improves on the newest successes around the country. Finally, applying innovative methods of accountability and oversight will allow a true partnership between the veterans, their families, and the state.”

The authority would be run by a board of nine, made up of professionals who have knowledge, skills or experience in long-term care and medicine. The board would include the director of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA); three members representing veterans service organizations; three members from the general public (one of whom must be from the Upper Peninsula); one member designated by the Senate majority leader; and one member designated by the speaker of the House. The board must produce an annual report of its activities to the governor, Legislature and chairpersons of the respective legislative appropriations committees at the end of each fiscal year.  

“Michigan veterans deserve the best, with no excuses,” said Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights), who is the first Iraq War veteran elected to the Michigan Senate. “These bills provide us with a pathway to improving the quality of care at our existing state facilities while also increasing access to care for veterans across the state, especially those in Southeast Michigan, where our largest veteran population exists. We can’t wait any longer to take action.”

The four-bill, bipartisan, bicameral package is the result of workgroup meetings that took place over several months involving members of the Legislature, Gov. Snyder’s administration, MVAA, and other veterans and health care organizations. The workgroup produced a report that, in addition to recommendations covered by this legislation, includes recommendations for further improvements.

“In order to function at maximum efficiency, a new model for veterans care facilities in Michigan will need to be free from the bureaucratic maze of state government,” said Rep. David Rutledge (D-Ypsilanti). “We should locate care facilities close to large veteran population centers, they should partner with other community-based agencies and employ their own trained and career-minded staff. We owe our veterans no less than this level of responsiveness, and this legislation will make better care possible for countless Michigan veterans.”

SBs 1097-1100 and HBs 5919-5922 were introduced Wednesday in their respective chambers and will now begin the committee process where public testimony will be received on the proposal.