Woodhaven Stamping electrician serves as Michigan’s VFW Commander

Nov 14, 2023

Electrician Ray Lopez uses his platform as Michigan Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Commander to educate and improve veterans services. He became active with the Veterans of Foreign Wars 27 years ago, just two years after he joined Ford Motor Company at Milan Plastics. Traveling extensively for the VFW, Lopez is visibile outside Metropolitan Detroit as he promotes community involvement and service through visits to the 232 posts and more than 32,000 veterans in the state. In fact, he spent this Veterans Day at a ceremony in Alpena.

Ray Lopez, VFW Department Commander Click to Enlarge

Care Creates Devotion

After returning home from serving as a Marine in the Persian Gulf War, Lopez had some health issues. A VFW member urged him to use his benefits to get evaluated. The care he received upon the advice of his fellow veteran led Lopez devote his time to promoting better services for veterans and workign with the VFW to educate them about what is available.

 “That’s how I got interested in advocacy,” Lopez said. “My mission is to help and assist veterans with what resources exist. On the political side, I meet with state and federal leaders to increase help to our veterans.”

Some of the statistics are chilling – 22 veterans commit suicide every day, clearly a sign of a lack of knowing where to find mental health help.

Challenge coin Click to Enlarge

Causes Close to the Heart

 “Every state commander has a special project. Mine does include health services but I’m focusing on cancer,” Lopez said. From Vietnam, there were cancers stemming from Agent Orange. Gulf veterans are having more types of cancer from several sources –burn pits and also the desert storms that carried both sand and depleted uranium from bombs.

Lopez recently participated in a fall conference with groups, including Karmanos Cancer Center, to raise awareness and support for these types of cancers. Karmanos has committed to giving all veterans a second opinion diagnosis and will see the veterans within days of their call. Lopez also invited leaders of the American Legion, Disabled Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America to join in the conference to help spread the word.

A Schedule that Supports

Lopez works the afternoon shift as it allows him to attend meetings – both in person in Lansing and via Zoom – during the morning. “I have a great wife, a supportive family and a great staff that makes serving as commander easier,” Lopez said.

At the start of a one-year term, Lopez has a number of things he wants to accomplish in his term.

“I’m trying to reach out to younger veterans. We’re a support and resource for the post-9/11 veterans,” Lopez said. “People may have heard about their parents or grandparents talking about war stories in smoky rooms but that’s not what we are anymore. We’re about service and commitment to patriotism.”

He’s been able to balance his VFW work with his Ford work. Hired in those 29 ½ years ago, after leaving Milan Plastics when it closed, he went to Auto Alliance and then to Sheldon Road. When Sheldon Road closed, he moved to Woodhaven Stamping in 2011. Five years later, he became an apprentice in the electrician program.

“I was late to my trade but I love what I do,” Lopez said. “Ford has given me my best life. I love working here.”