On April 1, 2011, Governor Scott Walker held a press conference in New Berlin, Wis. to discuss his proposed 2011-2013 Biennial Budget for veterans. In attendance were several veteran service organizations, including DAV.
While the press conference conflicted with the National Executive Committee 12th District meeting being held in Stevens Point (which prevented Commander John Hoeft from attending), representing Commander Hoeft was Dick Marbes, State Treasurer and a Past National Commander. Also attending was myself, Al Labelle, State Judge Advocate.
Other veteran service organizations attending were Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, AMVETS, and Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
The Governor spoke quite eloquently on meeting the needs of veterans, calling it a “bipartisan issue.” He talked about restoring the Wisconsin G.I. Bill to its original form and intent; restoring the ‘lapse’ taken from the Veterans Trust Fund during the previous Biennial Budget; funding the Veterans and Surviving Spouses Property Tax Credit; and funding the Veterans Trust Fund to ensure its solvency.
Additionally, the Governor discussed the budget increasing funds for Veteran Outreach and for Cemetery Maintenance.
Also mentioned was the new Wisconsin Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls. Funding for the construction of the Chippewa Falls Home will be federal government (65%) and state bonds (35%). Revenues from the Chippewa Falls Home will fund ongoing expenses.
Most of the items were recommendations made by DAV to the Governor’s Staff in a January 12th meeting held at the Capitol in the Governor’s Office. Also in attendance at the January meeting were the above mentioned veteran service organizations.
A pleasant surprise occurred during the Question & Answer Session following the Governor’s remarks. In a response to a query about the recent resignation of WDVA Secretary Ken Black, Governor Walker went into great detail about the possibility of legislation being introduced next week, which he will support, that will restructure and reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Board of Veterans Affairs.
The Governor endorsed expanding the Board to nine members, one from the eight Congressional Districts and one At-Large member. This will give the entire state representation on the Board. The anticipated legislation will redefine the qualifications of Board Members and the Board will now become an advisor to the Governor and Legislature, not the overseer of the Department.
Most importantly, the WDVA Secretary will now be appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the Senate, and become a member of the Governor’s Cabinet.
These ideas again were recommendations made by DAV at the January meeting. The Governor deserves praise from DAV and the other veteran service organizations for embracing and articulating these new ideas.
Representing the other veteran service organizations at the Press Conference were:
- DAV: Dick Marbes, State Treasurer and Past National Commander; Al Labelle, State Judge Advocate.
- VFW: Tom Lemmer, State Commander; Larry Kutschma, State Senior Vice Commander; and Steve Lawrence, State Adjutant/Quartermaster.
- American Legion: Robert Batty, State Commander and David Kurtz, Adjutant.
- AMVETS: Gene Wagner, State Commander and Tim Thiers, State Legislative Chair.
- MOPH: Bill Hustad, State Commander and Jason John, Legislative Committee.