SHIAWASSEE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF Veterans Affairs and Services Director Mike Reeve is shown in his office on Monday, Nov. 2. Reeve has been the director since 2018 and had much to share about the department regarding recent months.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
The Shiawassee County Department of Veterans Affairs and Services is located on the third floor of the Surbeck Building in downtown Corunna. Mike Reeve, a retired U.S. Army major, has been the director since 2018. After facing serious injury from a rocket attack in 2007 that left him partially disabled, Reeve has a strong understanding of the county veteran population and can relate to their stories and connect with their families.
Regarding the pandemic, Reeve recently shared, “As far as servicing the veterans for the county, I think we’re doing a great job as far as the number that we’ve been able to reach. COVID did put us back quite a bit. Slowed us down. Unfortunately, the community that we work with is that higher risk population.” He noted several safety changes that have been made in the third floor offices and the necessity to require appointment-only meetings. “Before we used to have six or seven people at any given time, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder up here. Unfortunately with the times we live in currently, we can’t do that right now. Given all that, it has put a big curve on all the different veteran events. The county fair was cancelled and that is a huge opportunity for us to do some marketing and let folks know that we’re here.”
There have been some positives brought on through the quarantine and pandemic. Reeve shared the department has had more time to follow up with case management and connect with some veterans that “had perhaps fallen through some cracks.” Reeve said that generally his desk has several large piles of cases and he is currently down to one, smaller stack. “It means we’re getting through some of our more historic case loads. That’s been a plus.”
Veterans Service Officer Marc LeConte, who excels at veterans claims, has assisted veterans in previous months in receiving roughly $500,000 in claims. Reeve said there has been a couple large claims – one for over $200,000 and another for $300,000. “That’s all just from his research and due diligence,” stated Reeve. “I don’t think if we had continued the case load we’d had, those might not have turned out as well as they had. So, he’s had the time to do what he’s done and it’s kind of a blessing in disguise, I guess.”
Continuing with the pandemic discussion, Reeve agrees that wearing masks and social distancing is not ideal, but he disagrees with some people who equate COVID-19 to influenza. “This isn’t going away. This is here to stay. We just need to develop a skill-set to combat it,” he offered. “This is a living organism, so it’s here and it wants to survive. So it’s going to start mutating and figuring out its best chances for survival … Eventually, this is going to become about what our new normal is going to look like after we get a little bit more control of the situation.”
Heading toward the holidays, the department is seeing an upswing in veteran cases once again. “The good news is that with Fiddler’s Green just having been put in, we’re currently in the process of signing an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to utilize their resources for our homeless veterans.”
Fiddler’s Green LLC, located within the former Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility on S. Norton Street in Corunna, opened in early October as an independent living home for veterans.
“Whether it’s the cold or whether there is now a place to actually house homeless veterans and be veteran-centric, I don’t know if that’s why we’re starting to see more of an influx of homeless veterans or not,” Reeve said. “I appreciate it because then the veterans are identified, which means their specific needs can be identified, which means we can then begin to start a treatment plan, whether they have an addiction or financial or irresponsibility … we can start to develop a treatment plan to get them back to self-independence.” Reeve thinks that the vision of the team that developed Fiddler’s Green “has been the right combination because it is working.”
The third floor veteran affairs department office space is relatively small, but a conference room directly across the hall is in the process of being converted into two more office spaces. Reeve stated once the offices are done, the department will once again start having a VFW Veteran Service Officer on Monday through Thursday. On Thursdays and Fridays, Darcy Andrews from the Vietnam Veterans Association will be in attendance – adding two additional VSO assets to the department.
The Shiawassee County Veterans Affairs and Services budget is not drawn from the general fund of Shiawassee County. The budget actually comes from two different millages. More information on these voter-approved millages is available at www.shiawassee.net. The department is currently looking for a full-time Veteran Service Officer, but the money for that position was built into the previous pre-COVID budget. Reeve is hopeful the position will be filled relatively soon so it will allow him more opportunity to fulfill directorial duties.
Upcoming department events include participating in the Durand Veterans Day Parade. Reeve is also developing a plan to have a Christmas tree, possibly just outside of the third floor offices where it will be safely available to the public. The tree will be decorated with veteran gift-item request tags, allowing for holiday gifts to be purchased and some cheer passed on to the veteran population – particularly those without families.
Because of some of the COVID-19 transportation restrictions in place, transporting veterans to important appointments has become slightly more complex. Volunteer drivers are always needed. If interested in volunteering, please call the transportation coordinator, Paula Jager at (989) 743-2346. Likewise, veterans needing to schedule appointments should contact Jager.
Churches or other organizations interested in assisting a veteran and/or their family during the upcoming holiday season can call the office at (989) 743-2231. Sometimes the department comes across certain veterans who are truly struggling during the Christmas season, so every attempt is made to assist.
Reeve also mentioned the veteran treatment court, a program initiated by Shiawassee County 35th District Court Judge Matt Stewart a year ago. The program was developed to direct veterans toward treatment rather than prison. The treatment program includes both the drug and mental health court systems and allows for multi-agency support. “Entering into the court system, these veterans are in a time of crisis,” said Reeve. “So that is a new program that has started in the past year and it has been effective so far.”