Former Navy officer spearheads Wayne Veteran Services Division

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Detroit Mercy Law alumnus Ponce Clay is the new Division Director of Veteran Services for the Wayne County Department of Health, Veterans and Community Wellness—a perfect role for this retired U.S. Navy officer who spent more than 20 years serving his country.

“This role is rewarding because it allows my magnificent team and I to positively impact the lives of eligible veterans and their families at the most critical times in their lives—during an unforeseen crisis,” Clay says.

Clay notes Wayne County has the largest veteran population in Michigan—about 90,000 according the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Additionally, by incorporating the ‘No Wrong Door’ policy, we also have an opportunity to not just meet an immediate need, but also to inform the veteran about other benefits they may be eligible for at federal and state levels—in effect, informing the veteran about other wraparound social services they may not be aware in order to address their unique challenges,” he says.    

The near term objectives are: a direct marketing campaign to inform the veteran public about the services the office provides; deliberate outreach to Wayne County veterans; and enhancing the service delivery by leveraging technology in order to allow greater access to eligible veterans and their families.

The Veteran Financial Hardship Services Program provides temporary emergency financial assistance to Wayne County honorably discharged indigent wartime veterans, their spouses, and dependent children, to meet immediate needs; and the Veteran Support Services Program provides burial assistance, job referrals, and Veterans Administration compensation/disability applications services so that Wayne County eligible veterans and their families can receive additional benefits and secure employment.

The Veteran Services Division also provides assistance with funeral expenses to veterans and spouses with assets less than $40,000 excluding the family residence. The veteran must have received an honorable discharge from the United States Armed Forces, with at least 90 days of recognized wartime service. The county of Wayne will provide up to $1,000 toward burial benefits and $50 toward the cost of installing a Government Marker. Spouses are not eligible for a government marker.   

With his background, Clay can certainly empathize with veterans. A graduate of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, he earned his undergrad degree in Spanish from Morehouse College in Atlanta before serving as a Surface Warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, retiring after more than two decades of honorable service.

During his Navy career, Clay served as Officer in Charge of Naval Shore activity in Madrid, Spain; as Director of Officer accessions; director of Navy Careers/College Scholarships; and headed Navy District Recruiting operations, all in Michigan and Indiana. He also worked in Jacksonville, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; and greater Memphis, Tenn.

While on active service, he attended the Air Force University Command and Staff College, completed joint professional military education studies in Madrid, Spain, and earned an M.P.A, in public administration, public personnel management from the Japan campus of Troy State University, Pacific Region.   

After retiring from the Navy in 2012, Clay earned his law degree from Detroit Mercy Law, where he focused on veterans law, public service interest, and federal level public administration. He most recently earned an MBA from the University of Detroit Business School.   

He previously worked as a veteran mentor at the 36th District Veterans Treatment Court in downtown Detroit, assisting with early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation of defendants who have served in the military, diverting them from a jail sentence into mental health and/or substance abuse treatment.   

A member of the Wolverine Bar Association and a state approved general civil mediator in Wayne County, Clay founded The Clay Group LLC, a Certified Veteran Owned Business, that delivers a tailored plan of action for clients that range from a small business owner seeking to streamline a hectic non-productive schedule, to a local activist seeking a framework to start a political campaign.

The Detroit native, who serves on the boards of various civic-based organizations including the city of Detroit Ethics Board, enjoys spending his leisure time playing board games with his four children, reading, and investing in real estate.

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