For Immediate Release - April 28, 2011 - Contact: John Hoeft or Ken Kuehnl
(Green Bay, Wis.) - “Assembly Bill 96, which would change the appointment process for the WDVA Secretary and the role of the Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs, is an important step in restoring accountability to the agency,” said Disabled American Veterans State Commander John Hoeft, a service-disabled Vietnam War veteran from Omro, Wis. “DAV’s leadership team, including the Executive Committee, is united in support for AB 96 if several important amendments are accepted. If amended as requested, AB 96 will be good for the state veterans agency, veterans, and the taxpaying public.”
DAV is the largest organization of service-disabled veterans in the world. Made up of well over one million men and women disabled in our nation’s defense, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is dedicated to a single purpose: building better lives for all of our nation’s disabled veterans and their families. Fully non-partisan, DAV extends its mission of hope into communities where these veterans and their families live through a network of direct assistance-providing national service offices, an extensive DAV van program to get veterans to their often distant VA medical appointments, state-level departments, and 2,400 local chapters, including 55 here in Wisconsin.
Measures like AB 96 to restore accountability to WDVA have been a top goal of DAV and other state veterans service organizations for much of the last year, long before the election of the Governor. DAV’s volunteer leaders have run into apparently insurmountable hurdles with WDVA under its current Board and most recent leadership on even “no-brainer” issues like increasing WDVA’s hiring of disabled, wartime, and other veterans, maintaining current volunteer wheelchair repair services at the King Veterans Home, and many other issues important to DAV. “We are pleased that Representative Kevin Petersen and other state legislators have heard us and have introduced a bill to help restore accountability to WDVA,” said Hoeft.
Dick Marbes, a past DAV National Commander and continuing key leader in DAV’s national and state organizations who served on the WDVA Board for ten years, from 1991 to 2001, shared thoughts from his extensive experience. “I served with many other Board members who I respect, including Teddy Duckworth from the American Legion. However, as a former Board member myself, it is clear to me that accountability over a Secretary and an agency by a very part-time Board of Veterans Affairs is simply not possible and can easily lead to the disjointed results we all have seen in recent years,” said Marbes, who lives in Green Bay, Wis. and is a service-disabled veteran.
As DAV’s national commander, Marbes met on behalf of DAV with then President Clinton and leaders in the Clinton Administration. “To me, elevating the role of the WDVA Secretary to the cabinet level, just like at the national level, is good for the state veterans agency and good for veterans,” said Marbes.
“I respect the views of those who believe that a Board overseeing WDVA prevents politics from entering into WDVA’s operations. However, that noble goal has simply not ever been the reality,” said Marbes. “I also believe six years is too long for Board members’ appointments, and I favor a change in term length to something shorter than six years,” said Marbes.
Ken Kuehnl, a past DAV state commander and current state adjutant, is a service-disabled Vietnam War veteran from Union Grove, Wis. “Like DAV’s state Executive Committee, I am in full support of legislative efforts to elevate the WDVA Secretary to be a member of the Governor’s cabinet, make the appointment a publicly accountable appointment of the Governor confirmed in an open and public process by the Senate, and make the Board’s role purely advisory,” said Kuehnl. “I believe this will be an important next step in restoring accountability to WDVA,” said Kuehnl.
Al Labelle, DAV’s State Judge Advocate and a service-disabled Vietnam War veteran, has attended many WDVA Board meetings on behalf of DAV. “Candidly, WDVA has been the poster child for a dysfunctional government agency. It has been incompetent and non-responsive,” said Labelle. “We really need this legislation to help fix what’s wrong at the leadership level at WDVA,” said Labelle. "In the future with this legislation, when major problems occur, responsibility will reside solely with the WDVA Secretary and the Governor.”
Anthony Hardie, formerly the number three top official at WDVA from 2003 to 2009 under two Secretaries and several Acting Secretaries, is currently a volunteer with DAV including as National Deputy Chief of Staff and State Special Assistant. Hardie is himself an appointed member of several federal advisory committees, and represents DAV on the statutory, advisory Wisconsin Council on Veterans Programs. “I have great respect for those who have served on the Board of Veterans Affairs, including the men and women I have worked with closely in that role since I first began regularly attending Board meetings in 1999,” said Hardie, a service-disabled Gulf War and Somalia veteran of Madison, Wis.
“My close firsthand experience with Boards of Veterans Affairs appointed by both Republican and Democratic governors has shown me that contrary to popular belief, a Board does not insulate WDVA from politics, and in fact only prolongs the politics of each former governor for several years into the first or even second term of each successive new governor. This situation not only creates unnecessary and highly problematic tensions between WDVA and news governor, but most importantly severely hampers the ability of WDVA to accomplish its mission of keeping up with the times in providing needed assistance to Wisconsin’s veterans,” said Hardie.
In a March 17, 2011 press release generally supporting most of the Governor’s proposed budget related to veterans, Hoeft had this message: “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.” Hoeft then went on to say that the fiscal-only budget proposals, “do not go far enough in restoring veterans trust, faith, and confidence in the broken leadership at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.” “…Because if we don’t fix the current mess at WDVA, all the money in the world won’t make a bit of difference,” concluded Hoeft. “AB 96 will move us closer to those goals,” he said.
Amendments to AB 96 sought by DAV include: requiring the WDVA Secretary to be a veteran; ensuring the WDVA Secretary is the agency head with directing and supervisory roles; and, requiring the veterans organizations consulted by the Governor in AB 96’s appointment process to be Wisconsin’s largest veterans service organizations, as defined by their total number of Wisconsin members, which are accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).