As a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, the son of a World War II veteran, and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, service is very personal to Gary. One of his top priorities in the Senate has been ensuring veterans in Michigan and across the country can successfully transition back to civilian life. Our nation’s heroes had our back – and Gary has worked to make sure we have theirs.
In December 2016, Gary’s Fairness for Veterans bill was signed into law as part of the annual national defense bill. Gary’s bipartisan bill helps veterans who may have been erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). That discharge had made them ineligible for certain benefits, including Post-9/11 G.I. Bill educational benefits and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loans.
Under Gary’s bill, the military must now give liberal consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status to honorable if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or related conditions in connection with their military service. Because of Gary’s work on this issue, he was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America in August 2017.
In December 2019, provisions from Gary’s bipartisan bill to cut red tape for National guardsmen and reservists was signed into law. The provisions will ensure that these servicemembers receive a formal record of service when they complete their service – which is necessary for receiving the benefits they have earned from the VA and private sector entities. Previously, reservists did not receive a separation document detailing their service and guardsmen did not receive the same forms as Active Duty servicemembers after completion of service.
In March 2020, Gary’s bipartisan bill to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans was signed into law. Gary’s bill that he introduced with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) – the Support for Veterans in Effective Apprenticeships Act – will allow more veterans to use their GI benefits towards apprenticeships. Previously, in Michigan alone, only a few hundred of the 1,000 registered apprenticeships listed as active by the Department of Labor (DOL) were approved by the VA. Gary also partnered with Rick Donovan, a Michigan veteran in Oakland County and State Legislative Officer for the Polish Legion of American Veterans Department of Michigan, on this bill after Donovan reached out to Gary to discuss the lack of apprenticeships that qualify under GI Bill benefits. Gary also partnered with U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), who introduced companion legislation.
When Gary heard from Vietnam veterans across Michigan that they could not access critical health care benefits to secure treatment for illnesses related to Agent Orange exposure, he fought for and helped secure a measure in the defense bill that became law in January 2021 to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) list of medical conditions associated with the contaminant.
In January 2021, Gary’s bill to strengthen transparency and communication within the VA’s Caregiver Program was signed into law. The bill will better ensure that all participants receive the stipends and medical resources needed to secure proper care. The legislation came after reports that caregivers and veterans were arbitrarily discharged or downgraded from the program, with benefits subsequently revoked or reduced – often with little explanation or time to appeal the decision.