UPDATE: A criminal investigation is underway concerning the Livingston County Veterans Affairs department.

Livingston County Administrator Ken Hinton has confirmed that Michigan State Police are investigating an allegation that a woman was unable to obtain a donation receipt for a $400 check she wrote to a member of the Livingston County Veterans Affairs Committee. Hinton became aware of the complaint August 24th and after requesting additional information, referred it to the State Police for further investigation the following week. Hinton declined to identify the committee member, citing the ongoing investigation.

Members of the Livingston County Veterans Services Committee addressed allegations being made by local Democrats during Monday night’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners and attribute the claims to the election season.

Voters approved a county-wide millage for veterans’ services in August of 2016. Committee members are appointed by the board and oversee implementation of the millage. The Livingston County Democratic Party issued a press release last week (posted below) alleging that the Committee is not properly implementing the millage designed to expand services for local veterans, and that only a fraction of funds raised from it are being spent. It was further alleged that Commissioners have failed to oversee implementation of the millage and the Committee, whose members they appoint, have stymied efforts to implement more programs. Some Democratic candidates running for the county board were at Monday’s meeting, along with Party Chair Judy Daubenmier. She called on the board to make a real effort to look into why the money is not being spent and appoint new Committee members. District 6 candidate Kasey Helton referred to it as a numbers issue that could be resolved by looking at the budget, adding no disrespect was meant to any veterans. "My husband and my father are both Navy veterans -- this issue touches every family with a veteran, regardless of their political affiliation. Therefore, it should be plain that this is not a partisan issue, but rather an issue of priorities and simple accounting. The veterans services committee has not disputed any figures that point to the lack of investment in Livingston County veterans, and that should be a concern to all of us."

Committee Chair Hansel Keene and member Bruce Hundley addressed board during the call to the public portion of Monday night’s meeting. Both took exception to the allegations and suggestions they don’t care for veterans - being vets themselves. Keene told the board all veterans are treated with the highest dignity and respect that that they deserve, saying they would never suggest veterans call a taxi or Uber for a ride and do whatever it takes to make sure they get to their destination. There is a lack of transportation volunteers so Keene and Hundley both regularly volunteer, sharing recent instances of such. Keene said the Committee is very cognizant in what it does and positive work is being done such as paying back taxes for local veterans or their mortgage when they get in arrears as well as put new roofs on homes.

But local Democrats say the county commissioners themselves need to be more involved. Alex Hansen is running for the 5th District seat. "I’m perplexed that the County Commissioners have not taken a more involved role in the veterans services being decided in this county. Why was a County Commissioner not on this committee or why aren’t any of the county commissioners attending the committee meetings?" As to the accusation that he is posturing on the issue for political gain, he told WHMI, "I have been accused of posturing for every major stance I have taken since starting my campaign be it marijuana or PFAS. Bringing attention to an important issue is something I will never shy away from. Veterans services should not be a partisan issue. The only folks that lose when this happens is the Veterans. We should all want better transparency and better access to services for our veterans. I look forward to hearing more about the veterans committee’s activities and how they are helping our area veterans."

Hundley told the board and audience they appreciate everyone’s vote in support of local veterans and they take their jobs very seriously - stressing they are constantly studying and looking at better ways to serve veterans. He acknowledged that they are short on drivers, and both he and Keene regularly volunteer to drive veterans. Hundley said he found it offensive at particular this time of an election cycle that there is “newfound love for veterans”, adding he’s been on the Committee for the past 21 months and didn’t see one person Monday night who has ever attended a meeting. He stated the budget is all public information and they just recently bought a new van to use for veterans. Hundley closed to say they’re looking for volunteers to assist with transportation – adding somewhat jokingly that given there are so many people who love veterans, he’s sure their Facebook site will be flooded with people who want to help and volunteer.

Commission Chair Don Parker told WHMI all members of the committee are veterans and they appoint them to not only oversee the millage but services for veterans. "They're all excellent individuals. They all care about veterans, they volunteer a lot of their time assisting veterans with their issues that they face."

The department is currently looking for a new director, after the committee voted to terminate former Director Adam Smiddy after a little more than one year. Parker says there is a process and the Committee will decide who the new director will be, and he has "complete confidence in them." Parker added that he has dedicated much of his career on the county board to issues involving veterans and stressed he is committed to the veterans of Livingston County and making sure they get what they deserve.

Details on services provided and the millage can be found on the Livingston County Veterans' Services website. The link is provided. (JM/JK)