Officer to help GV veterans access health benefits

Lizzy Balboa

Grand Valley State University President Thomas J. Haas recently signed a memo of understanding with the Michigan Department of Veterans Affairs to establish an on-campus office for a veteran service officer to help GVSU’s veterans gain access to VA health care and benefits, as well as file compensation claims for service-related disabilities.

“A lot of veterans, when they get out of the service, they may have been injured or sick while on active duty, and when they get out they don’t realize they get compensation,” said Annette Dennis, GVSU’s new veteran service officer. “A lot of veterans may not even know that the disabilities and the things that they’re going through are compensable.”

Dennis is a department service officer for Disabled American Veterans, but as a former active duty staff sergeant in U.S. Air Force, she understands the veteran lifestyle. Using her bachelor’s degree in health services management and master’s in mental health counseling, she interviews and evaluates GVSU’s veterans to determine if they qualify for compensation.

“The whole idea for this is for students to connect with Annette, because a lot of times there are dollars and resources that she can help them get,” said Steven Lipnicki, assistant dean of students.

While many veterans report physical repercussions from their service days, mental health disabilities are also compensable.

“There are a lot of veterans walking around who have been exposed to combat or personal assault and they could be suffering depression (or) anxiety,” Dennis said. “PTSD is really a big thing because of the soldiers coming back right now from Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Dennis said she serves about 600 veterans at GVSU, as well as comparable numbers at her other institutions. Because she is responsible for an entire region of the state, GVSU will share her services with Muskegon Community College, Western Michigan University, Kellogg Community College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Lake Michigan Community College.

Dennis will usually hold office hours Mondays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center and will also meet by appointment on both the downtown and Allendale campuses.

“I recommend that any veteran come and see a service officer—if nothing else just to have an interview to see if there are any benefits they’re entitled to,” she said.

To contact Dennis, email [email protected] or call 586-215-0540.
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