TO: Governor Jim Doyle, State Capitol 115 East, P.O. Box 7863, Madison, WI 53707
RE: Assembly Bill 781
Dear Governor Doyle,
Thank you for your previous and continued support for the Wisconsin G.I. Bill tuition remission, a program that is a premier State of Wisconsin state-level economic development, educational investment, veterans readjustment and veterans benefits program worthy of emulation by all the States.
On behalf of the members of the Department of Wisconsin Disabled Veterans, I am writing you to formally request that you use your power as Governor to request a special session of the Wisconsin State Legislature to consider Assembly Bill 781, a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Hilgenberg to make full restoration to the Wisconsin G.I. Bill tuition remission. You may be aware that the University of Wisconsin System has interpreted statutory language in the last state budget act, signed into law by you, to make substantial cuts to the original benefits under this veterans’ remission.
As you may know, the DAV is the authoritative voice for our nation’s service-connected disabled veterans, including the young men and women wounded or injured as a result of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And, the spirit of our members in support of our legislative initiatives is essential to our efforts to secure and enhance the programs that benefit veterans, particularly disabled veterans.
You may also be aware the U.S. Department of Labor reported in March 2010 that one in three veterans under age 24 is unemployed; that the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has jumped to 14.7%, half again as high as the national employment rate of 9.7%; that the March unemployment rate of 30.2 percent for veterans aged 18 to 24 is a big increase from February’s figure of 21.7 percent; and, that this data shows that veterans are bearing the brunt of the economic downturn.
You may also be aware of veteran suicide rates that have now reached an average of 950 suicide attempts per month among veterans receiving some sort of treatment from the VA and an average of 18 veteran suicides per day. According to one study, “specifically, the risk for suicide appears highest among younger veterans -- the reverse of what's seen in the general population.”
We have learned that studied risk factors for suicide have been stated to include military service (double the suicide rate of those without military service), diminished social environment support, and loss of security. We have also learned that many studies have found an association between unemployment and suicide, and that a report from the CDC states that suicide rates are inversely related to the level of education, meaning higher education is associated with lower risk of suicide. Of course, there are many other risk factors for veterans’ suicide, particularly mental health and physical impairment issues, no strangers to many of our disabled veterans.
It is our position that the Wisconsin G.I. Bill tuition remission program provides an exceptional opportunity for reintegration for veterans returning from military service before entering the full-time workforce as better prepared citizens.
As disabled veterans ourselves, we believe that the opportunity to pursue higher educational goals under the Wisconsin G.I. Bill – restored to its full benefit, which never should have been allowed to be cut in the first place – and on the socially and intellectually engaging campuses of Wisconsin’s UW and technical college campuses is good not just for veterans, particularly newly returning and reintegrating veterans, but it is good for Wisconsin, particularly Wisconsin’s economy. The program clearly leads to a better educated workforce, very likely able to take Wisconsin’s economy to new heights.
Again, thank you for your continued support for the Wisconsin G.I. Bill tuition remission program, a critically important, cost-effective investment in the future of our state and our veterans.
Please let me know if you need additional information or want to discuss this request. On behalf of DAV-WI, I look forward to hearing from you.
Holly Hoppe, Commander
DAV Department of Wisconsin