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Veterans in state Legislature work to improve conditions for all vets

The Michigan Senate chamber
flickr user cedarbenddrive
The Michigan Senate chamber

There are two Iraq war veterans now serving in the state Legislature.

Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, both took their seats in November 2014, and they’re working hard toward a goal of improving veterans’ affairs here in Michigan.

Knezek and Barrett have already had the chance to work together on legislation seeking to extend rights to veterans who use service animals to manage the effects of post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

“Unfortunately here in the state of Michigan, veterans who use service animals are not a protected class,” Knezek says. “Rep. Barrett and I wanted to make sure that we could protect those veterans and allow them to transition healthily back home to the United States.”

They hope to see Gov. Snyder sign that legislation into law some time this summer.

Both Barrett and Knezek have independently gotten legislation passed to strengthen military members’ rights. Barrett focused on strengthening custody rights for those who are deployed, while Knezek concentrated on granting private employers the right to give hiring preference to veterans.

Barrett tells us that the latter is a huge step forward for the state. “Michigan has had the second-highest veteran unemployment rate in the entire country,” he says. “It’s something that both Sen. Knezek and I are very interested in doing our best to correct.”

The big point they’re making here is that veteran-related issues have nothing to do with party lines.

“First and foremost, Rep. Barrett and I believe that we cannot afford to politicize, or to make veteran’s issues partisan here in the state of Michigan,” Knezek says. “It’s just about making a healthy transition for those veterans and making sure that they are able to come back and put to use the skills that they earned while they were in the military.”

Looking forward, they see a great opportunity to work together to bring Michigan to the forefront of the conversation and make some real changes to the way veterans are treated, both in the state and nationwide.

And Knezek says having Barrett across the aisle, someone who has lived through the same experiences he has, is invaluable when it comes to moving that conversation forward.

“We shed that partisan label, and at the end of the day we’re brothers, you know?” Knezek says. “Marine, Army, we fought on the same team and we’re going to continue to fight on that same veteran’s team here in Lansing.”

Listen to our conversation with Sen. David Knezek and Rep. Tom Barrett above to learn more about their plans to improve veterans' affairs in Michigan.

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