A native of Gay, Michigan in the upper peninsula, Michael graduated from Lake Linden-Hubbell High School in 1964 and enlisted in the US Navy, where he served from 1964 to 1967 as a crypto technician aboard three different ships operating in Vietnamese territorial waters. He then moved to California, where he received a BA degree from California State University, Stanislaus in 1973 and immediately joined Cal State Stanislaus as its first Coordinator for Veterans Affairs. In this position, Michael created a program that provided specialized services to over 900 returning veterans at the peak of their enrollment at the university. In 1980, Michael moved to Sacramento to become the staff specialist on veterans policy for the California Legislature’s Assembly Select Committee on Veterans Affairs and drove significant policy changes for veterans, including strengthening California’s veterans home loan program and passing legislation authorizing the building of California’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
After 17 years in California, Michael moved to Washington, DC in 1984, becoming the Legislative Director and later Director of Public Affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), where his legislative strategies led to establishment of the right to court review of veterans benefits claims and preservation of the VA store-front counseling program, known as the Vet Centers. Michael then served from 1989 to 1996 as Deputy Director of the Agent Orange Class Assistance Program, established by a US District Court to manage part of the $240 million Agent Orange class action lawsuit settlement, and oversaw the distribution of over $70 million in grants to 73 agencies in 100 communities in the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.