Q&A with Brad Blanchard, Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition

Brad Blanchard is the director of the Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition, a volunteer group that was formally organized in 2017, but was known by other names prior to that. Blanchard has been doing this type of work for 11 years. He manages the coalition out of his home. 

Brad Blanchard is the director of the Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition.Blanchard served in the Navy from 1985-1993 as a Gunner’s Mate. He worked on weapons systems and taught weapons to our military and other military. He was stationed in Sicily, Washington, D. C. and Washington state. He did two tours in the Middle East. Blanchard now works as an environmental health and safety specialist at SK Saran in Midland. He’s worked in that role first for Dow and now for SK Saran for 24 years. 

The Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition (GLBVC) has 8-10 persons who organize projects, with 200-300 people helping out on projects in a year. Their primary source of funding is a golf outing in June. Coalition members also donate money and in-kind gifts as well as volunteer labor. Two organizations who recently helped the GLBVC are the United Way and Saginaw Valley State University. 

Nov. 11 is Veterans Day in the United States.The coalition reports there are over 25,000 veterans in Bay, Midland, and Saginaw counties. Some need help. 

Q: You shared with me that there are approximately 2,000 women veterans in the region. What issues do they face? 

A:  One of our goals is to get some women veterans in our organization to become accredited service officers. That’s so women can be more comfortable when we assist them to get registered for the VA (Veterans Affairs) and other things like that. We also want to get more women on boards for projects that benefit women veterans across the state.

The biggest issue they face is being accepted as veterans. When they go into an American Legion or VFW Post, they get asked, “When did your husband serve?” They have to explain that they’re the veterans. Some may also be dealing with issues including military sexual assault and PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). They may be more comfortable talking to another woman about that. 

"The biggest issue women face is being accepted as veterans."

Q: What are some of your goals right now?

A: I’m a big believer in many hands helping each project. We are reaching out to many organizations in the area to partner with us on projects. We try to work with them on projects that use their skill sets. For example, if a veteran needs help insulating their home, we contact an insulation contractor. The more groups we have, the more resources we can get. We’re not just seeking financial support. Another example is when we help veterans who need food assistance. We want to get help from different stores so we don’t go to the same places over and over.  

Q: As we head into winter, what are your main concerns for some veterans?

A: Financial stability is a big one, making sure they have enough money to pay their bills. Last year, we replaced five furnaces and repaired two others. These are huge expenses. Then coming into the holidays, making sure their families have enough money for food and gifts. 

One of GLBVC's goals is to find more organizations to partner with for projects.

Q: What’s the process when you get a request for help from a veteran?

A: When we get a request, we ask them if they’ve registered with the VA and if they’ve contacted 211. In the past, the VA was getting a black eye down south and in other areas of the country. We’ve got an excellent VA hospital in Saginaw. I sit on a couple of boards there. 

We encourage them to also call 211. They have a veterans specialist who can work on the overall picture and learn about what the veteran needs and help them get the resources to make life easier. For example, in Midland County, the most requests we received were for health care including mental health services, utility assistance, housing, and income support and assistance. 

The challenge becomes what are the unmet needs. Those include legal assistance, clothing, and transportation. Although there are public transportation systems in each county, it’s difficult to get to meetings and appointments in other counties. It’s a struggle to fill those requests. The VA and 211 are two resources, but we as an organization try to help them with as much support as possible. 

GLBVC has 8-10 persons who organize projects, with 200-300 people helping out on projects in a year.

Q: What are some upcoming projects for the coalition?

A: We have the “Fill the Trailer'' project. We collect donations of personal hygiene items to pass out at the VA hospital — we try to fill our trailer (14-foot box trailer). We do this every November. We put flyers out, and then when people call us with a collection, we take the trailer out to pick up the donations. 

We are usually in the school system teaching flag etiquette to third, fourth, and fifth graders. We’re not able to do this because of COVID. We usually have 10-12 veterans who go into the schools to do that. Also work with police and fire. 

We have a presence on Facebook. Type in our name, Great Lakes Bay Veterans Coalition, to connect to that and our website. You can let us know what help you need. When we do a project, we post the information on our Facebook page. Recent projects involved taking firewood to a veteran in Reed City and moving a veteran’s belongings from his house to a storage unit.

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020. "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."