Paying Back Sacrifice: Local VA officer hired

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Joseph Battisfore, the new veteran services officer at the Houghton County Veterans Affairs office, speaks to the Houghton County Board Tuesday.

HOUGHTON — Houghton County has a new veteran service officer at its Veterans Affairs office.

Joseph Battisfore, who recently took over the post, introduced himself to board members at Tuesday’s Houghton County Board meeting.

Battisfore replaces Jim Klutts, who died earlier this year. He served for 29 years in the U.S. Army — 10 in active service and 19 as a member of the National Guard — including deployments to war zones in Iran and Iraq, said Veterans Affairs Board member Gene LaRochelle. He retired from the Guard as a master sergeant.

“It was just an opportunity to continue to serve veterans, serve in the community,” he said of his latest assignment.

The office’s primary role for veterans in the area is to assist in filing compensation claims with the Veterans Benefit Administration, Battisfore said.

He said it also assists veterans in applying for health care through the Veterans Health Administration, and for emergency assistance through the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund and Houghton County Emergency Relief Fund.

The office also manages the Disabled American Veterans van, which transports veterans on a daily basis to the VA hospital in Iron Mountain.

In the future, the office will make a big push to provide service to elderly veterans and their spouses, Battisfore said.

“There are some benefits to them, but it’s a complicated process, and a lot of people aren’t aware of it,” he said.

He said the office will emphasize veterans pensions and survivors’ pensions, which are needs-based. The needs-based pensions have a low income threshold, making them hard to receive at first. But they often become available when medical costs override income, he said.

Another focus will be raising awareness about the office.

“We just want to reach as many veterans as we possibly can,” he said.

The office has about 40 to 80 walk-in visits or appointments per week, Battisfore said.

According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, in 2016 there were 2,766 veterans living in Houghton County and 299 in Keweenaw County. In Houghton County, the Veterans Administration spent more than $22.3 million in 2016, more than half of which went directly to the veterans.

“That’s money coming into the county from federal funds, and it’s spent, presumably, in Houghton County,” Battisfore said.

The DAV van transported 406 veterans in 2016, totaling 49,125 miles. Local veterans received more than $65,000 in emergency assistance grants from the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund from 2013-16. Over the same span, the office provided more than more than 14,000 flags for veterans graves.

There were 27 applicants for Battisfore’s position, which the Veterans Affairs office reduced to three. The final candidates underwent hour-long interviews, LaRochelle said. The two other candidates received job offers in the Upper Peninsula, including one who was hired as the veteran service officer in Dickinson County.