Thursday, March 17, 2011

DAV State Commander Says Governor’s Budget Proposal Good for Veterans

Restoration of Wisconsin G.I. Bill is key, but legislative proposals don’t go far enough in restoring accountability and public trust in WDVA

(Green Bay, Wis. – March 17, 2011) - “Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget would restore a promise to Wisconsin’s veterans by fully reversing enacted cuts to the Wisconsin G.I. Bill, provide for a new veterans nursing home in Chippewa Falls, and maintain funding for key state veterans programs and services,” said DAV State Commander John Hoeft, a service-disabled Vietnam War veteran from Omro, Wis. “This budget proposal is good for veterans.”

Reversing cuts made in the last biennium to the Wisconsin G.I. Bill tuition remission for veterans has been a top goal of DAV and other state veterans service organizations.

“Our veterans community fought tooth and nail in the last biennium to try to prevent these cuts to the Wisconsin G.I. Bill, the state’s cornerstone program for the successful reintegration and retention of our newest generation of veterans,” said Hoeft. “We are pleased the Governor has heard us and has included a proposal to fully reverse those cuts.”

The Governor’s budget recommendations also includes continued full GPR funding for the Wisconsin G.I. Bill and the Veterans and Surviving Spouses Property Tax Credit for totally and permanently disabled veterans, their surviving spouses, and the spouses of military service members killed in the line of duty – something Hoeft says if enacted, “would also be exceptional news for veterans.”

“The Governor’s proposed budget also includes a needed increase in funding and staffing for the Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemeteries, sites that honor the service and memories of thousands of our fellow veterans, including our WWII and Korean War veterans,” said Hoeft. “And, I am pleased to see the Governor’s budget also includes additional federal revenues from an increased federal burial plot allowance, a major legislative victory sought by DAV and others for many years,” he said.

However, Hoeft expressed concern about the current leadership of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. “But these legislative proposals do not go far enough in restoring veterans trust, faith, and confidence in the broken leadership at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Hoeft.

Recent legislative audits have exposed serious current mismanagement of the Wisconsin Veterans Homes at the highest levels within WDVA. And, recent news about WDVA has highlighted the agency’s flawed decision to ban all dogs from state veterans homes (later reversed under public pressure), a series of lawsuits by disabled veterans fired or passed over for less experienced non-veterans, and forcing veterans and widows out of the state’s veterans homes due to astronomical rate increases while retaining millions of dollars in unexpended surpluses.

“Just as is already being done in many other states, the Governor’s proposal to contract out the new Home at Chippewa Falls sounds like an excellent way to balance veterans’ care needs, major new job creation, and fiscal accountability – something that is sorely lacking at WDVA under its current management structure.”

And, DAV volunteer leaders have had an unusual battle with current WDVA leadership for nearly two years – over increasing the agency’s hiring of veterans of all things. Despite those efforts and in spite of a state law mandating the agency hire veterans and preferably disabled veterans, out of 136 hires last year WDVA hired just 15 veterans. Of those 15, just three were disabled veterans.

“That’s just simply unacceptable,” said Hoeft, noting that increasing WDVA’s hiring of disabled and other veterans was made a DAV top priority at its annual statewide convention last summer.

Hoeft also addressed the recent comments of WDVA Secretary Ken Black regarding the “solvency” of the Veterans Trust Fund, which has not had a steady funding source since the early 1950’s.

“How this veterans program or that veterans program gets funded has really been a red herring for far too long. What is truly important is that Wisconsin has top quality long term care, first rate programs and services to aid and honor our service-disabled and other veterans, and final resting places that remain a tribute to their service,” he said.

“As Commander of the state’s largest organization of service-disabled wartime veterans, I am generally pleased with the Governor’s budget recommendations affecting our state’s disabled, wartime, and other veterans,” said Hoeft. “While we have a little tweaking to do with a ‘bed tax’ issue, I’m confident that with this highly positive starting point, we’ll wind up with an excellent final budget for Wisconsin veterans programs and services,” he said.

Hoeft had a final message for the Governor, however. “I recognize that the budget bill is limited only to fiscal items, but we in the veterans community look forward to prompt action to ensure leadership change to restore accountability, transparency, and effective management to WDVA and return the state’s veterans agency to the veterans for whom it was created,” said Hoeft.

“…Because if we don’t fix the current mess at WDVA, all the money in the world won’t make a bit of difference,” he concluded.

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