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Attendees AMVETS Commander Gene Wagner Arnie Miller, AMVETS past Commander Tim Thiers, AMVETS Legislative Chair American Legion Commander, Robert Batty Dave Kurtz, American Legion State Adjutant DAV Commander John Hoeft Ken Kuehnl, DAV Adjutant Anthony Hardie, DAV JWV Commander Sam Gingold Ron Laux, JWV Past Commander William Sims, NABV MOPH Commander Bill Hustad and WVV Rep. Owen Williams, Pres., USSVWWII Russell Collins, USSVWWII SE Chapter Pres Larry Kutschma, VFW, Sr. Vice Commander Woody Woodworth, VFW, Jr. Vice Commander Steve Lawrence, VFW Quartermaster/Adjutant Father Theodore Borger, PVA Richard Lindbeck, VVA President Robert Buhr, WACVO Registered Agent John Solis, CVSO Assoc. 2nd Vice President Gary Traynor, BVA President WDVA Present Ken Black, Secretary Donna Williams, Deputy Secretary Julie Van Metre, Executive Staff Assistant
1. Welcome Secretary Black began by asking Anthony Hardie to lead in the Pledge of Allegiance. Secretary Black said there are new, additional problems and challenges to deal with in the veterans’ community. We have veterans coming back after doing three and four tours of duty. Suicide is a major issue—more people die from suicide than have died in the war. Women veterans issues have surfaced. Health issues are a concern. The Secretary is in the process of assigning staff as regional coordinators who will conduct outreach within the state. Some people will be moved around within WDVA to focus on Women veterans, suicide, health care issues and other prominent problems within the veterans community. Different organizations are standing up such as Dryhootch to assist veterans in the community. Camp American Legion helps many veterans and we need to get the new, returning veterans up there for a week away. Secretary Black wanted everyone to understand this organization is a non-partisan organization. He will be talking to everyone across the street, on the left, right, middle and anyone who wants to talk about how we are going to support our veterans going forward.
His philosophy is, “if we keep doing what we always do, we’ll get what we always got.” He’s looking at change. 2. Introductions Each participant introduced himself. Bill Hustad, State Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and also representing Wisconsin Vietnam Veterans; Steve Lawrence, Past State Commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the current State Adjutant/Quartermaster; Dewitt Woodworth, State Jr. Vice Commander for the VFW; David Kurtz, past State Commander of the Wisconsin American Legion, currently serving as the State Adjutant; Robert Batty, Commander of the Wisconsin American Legion; Father Theodore Borger, member of the Board of the Paralyzed Veterans of America for Wisconsin; Bob Buhr, registered agent for the Wisconsin Association of Concerned Veterans Organization; Williams Sims, one of the founders of the National Association for Black Veterans; Anthony Hardie, DAV representative on the Council on Veterans Programs and Special Assistant to the State Adjutant; John Hoeft, DAV Commander; Ken Kuehnl, past Department Commander of the Disabled American Veterans and currently serving as Department Adjutant; John Solis, 2nd Vice Commander for the CVSO Association of Wisconsin; Richard Lindbeck, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America; Ken Black, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs; Gary Traynor, President of the Blinded Veterans Association; Owen Williams, State Commander for Wisconsin Chapter of United States Submarine Veterans of WWII; Russ Collins, President of the SE Chapter of the US Submarine Veterans of WWII; Tim Thiers, AMVETS State Legislative Chair, State Trustee and Representative on the Council on Veterans Programs; Gene Wagner, AMVETS State Commander; and Arnie Miller, Past AMVETS Commander and presently the 4th District National District Commander. 3. Discussion about Town Hall Meetings Secretary Black is in the process of holding Town Hall meetings throughout Wisconsin. He has been in the Northwest through Chippewa Falls, Amery, Superior, and Rice Lake and in the Northeast in Keshena, Oconto Falls, Marinette and Fond du Lac. This weekend he will be in River Falls. He wants to get the veterans’ input on how WDVA can best move forward as an agency supporting our veterans. The numbers of attendees at the Town Hall meetings are not great. He is finding that those veterans attending are concerned about not only their own welfare but also about the young kids coming back. There are a lot of veterans in our community of 420,000 veterans who just do not know about County Veteran Service Officers. He doesn’t see young veterans attending these Town Hall meetings. In response to Tim Thiers’ question, Secretary Black said the Department is sending out notification of these Town Hall meetings through the RSVP lists. Dave Kurtz appreciates the challenge of outreach to the OIF/OEF veterans. He suggested in conjunction with the RSVP list or when WDVA does outreach to active duty soldiers coming back to their home of record or outreach to the Guard and Reserve through military channels, to provide these veterans with a free email address so you establish a conduit for communication on all veterans issues through the CVSOs and the WDVA. Mr. Kurtz said these young veterans are not going to show up in person at Town Hall meetings but we can reach them more successfully on the internet through blogs or web sites and a free email address.
The Secretary has established a WDVA Face Book page. He also meets regularly with about seven OIF/OEF veterans who have stressed, don’t write a paragraph when one line with a link will suffice. He compiles all the information he gleans from this small group and will get it out to the Commanders if they would find it of value to get other young veterans involved. Tim Thiers said when the Board travels for its meetings, a press release should precede the meeting to let veterans in the area know about the opportunity to come in and voice their opinions. Anthony Hardie was pleased to see that the Veterans Registry is now up on the front page of the WDVA web site; unfortunately it is not running yet. The security code you need to type in for access never appears. The Agent Orange list was expanded and being able to access that and make it functional will be critical. The DAV passed and provided to the Department and the Board a legislative agenda and one of the items was to support modernizing WDVA’s discharge database. Every DD-214 is digitally imaged but they are not in a searchable database. These discharge records should be put into a relational database so the state would be able to target every Vietnam veteran, every Gulf War veteran, every Iraq and Afghanistan veteran for whom there is a DD-214. The federal VA doesn’t do outreach but state Departments of Veterans Affairs are better situated to reach out to state veterans and CVSOs could be part of the process as well with all the DD-214s that are in the county registries. Mr. Hardie provided a copy of the DAV’s legislative agenda to Secretary Black. Father Borger said something needs to be put into the hands of veterans explaining the things you can offer them. Young veterans are not joiners unless they can get something out of it. Secretary Black said the Department has a new quad-fold pamphlet explaining the benefits and programs and it provides links to go to for more information. Owen Williams said the importance of the County Veterans Service Office needs to be stressed. The CVSO becomes your mentor and gets you through the bureaucracy and red tape. Individually, we need to speak up to our State Senators and State Assemblymen and make ourselves heard. Mr. Kurtz said a number of the Veterans Service Organizations maintain service offices which are very effective advocates for veterans and veterans benefits in addition to CVSOs. He asked how CVSOs are funded through the state and secondly, is it advisable for VSOs to work with WDVA to affect change and put more of the onus on the counties and less on the state. The response was that WDVA provides each county with a CVSO grant, maximum amount of $13,000 per county, depending on the number of veterans in the county. The total for that grant is approximately $750,000. It was suggested that VSOs attend county board meetings, write to the county executive and/or write a letter to the editor in each county to let the public know the CVSO office is underfunded for the important work they do for veterans. Each county has to have a County Veterans Service Officer, but it is an unfunded state mandate. It was noted that the Department has countyby-county measurements on volume of cases, etc. and there are federal statistics for compensation, pension, education, health care and home loans. The general distribution of expenditures (GDX) is available on the WDVA web site at WisVets.com/data. Mr. Kurtz said the American Legion would like to see these statistics for the 72 county veterans service offices so they can look at advocacy for veterans.
Anthony Hardie said in previous years the Department sent out letters to each County Executive notifying them how many dollars were brought into the county through the CVSO. When you talk about the millions of dollars coming into the county versus the couple hundred thousand dollars spent on the County Veterans Service Office, it makes a big impact. Many elected officials at the local and state level have no idea how many federal dollars are being brought in every month. Ken Black said his focus at the Town Hall meetings is jobs, homelessness, suicide and women veterans and letting the audience know about these major issues within our veteran community. What would you want me to talk about to the veterans in the community? • DAV transportation service for veterans—WI ranked 7th in the nation • County Veterans Service Office contact information on a handout card • Camp American Legion • No matter what your problem or disability, somewhere one of us has an answer for it • Wisconsin has five hospital facilities for veterans as well as outpatient clinics • PTSD TBI and veteran suicide—two factors are isolation and integration into the community, including employment • Most effective way of obtaining news is through the television—if WDVA can get TV coverage before a town hall meeting, it would be seen by many. Local newspapers are looking for human interest stories. • Encourage involvement in Blinded Veterans Organization or the Disabled American Veterans as an answer to problems associated with these disabilities because a large number do not realize they have benefits • Let Commanders know when the Secretary is coming into their area for a Town Hall meeting—either by email or phone Mr. Hardie said a recommendation made in June by the DAV is the implementation of listing veterans preference issues. Veterans need to know where to go to get hiring preference points and special hiring opportunities for disabled veterans. AMVETS displays a billboard for three months each year to let veterans know about AMVETS. They were offered the billboard from the Knights of Columbus. Secretary Black said this is an example of working with other service organizations to make sure we can continue to support our veterans. The Secretary said he could put together a “Good Ideas” page on WDVA’s web page where anyone could post a good idea on how to do something different or better. 4. Preparation for Salute to Legislators The Secretary intends to mass a fairly large group of veterans on the Capitol lawn in April for a Salute to the Legislators. He needs feedback on how to make that happen. Board member Boetcher and his Committee are putting together a legislative priority list to present to the Legislature. Secondly, Mr. Boetcher is in the process of coordinating training in December on how to lobby legislators. 5. Salute to Legislators The Secretary’s concept is based upon what was done in the past—some form of a Salute to the Legislature would take place on April 13th, the day before a Veterans Board meeting here
in Madison, there would be a rally, tours of the Museum, gathering at Monona Terrace with speakers and then a reception. The consensus of the meeting attendees was that veterans organizations didn’t meet its objective and the cost was getting prohibitive with the Salute format of the past. Secretary Black said that veterans vote and there are freshmen legislators coming on board in January who may be subject to our influence. Mr. Hardie said there was success in the past with a parallel bill introduced along with the budget bill which included all the policy issues. The Governor-elect has pledged to preserve the Veterans Trust Fund. If WDVA worked with veterans organizations, got their priority lists, and crafted a veterans package with enough things in it to get veterans excited to rally for it, that package will draw people to the Capitol lawn. Examples of items for the parallel bill—license plate issue, expansion of the Wisconsin GI Bill, some adjustments with the property tax credit, etc. DAV and AMVETS said meetings with legislative staff persons are very effective; you don’t need to meet with the elected official directly. Talking points can be prepared by the Department and disbursed to veterans organizations prior to the rally. Veterans organizations have to make sure their people are there, if less than 5,000 veterans, we’re not going to get anything. That means reaching out to the student veterans at the UW and get them up to the Capitol. The media needs to be there. The legislators have drafting authority. The Governor and Lt. Governor have drafting authority and are able to draft legislation but are not able to introduce it and state agencies have drafting authority. If the veterans organizations were able to put together a package before February, WDVA would be able to have that legislation drafted. The Secretary asked if Mr. Hardie would put together what this package should look like. The American Legion said they would more appropriately address it in their Legislative Committee. An Ad Hoc group met after the Commanders’ meeting to frame out a line of communication. Mr. Black summed up the discussion thusly: have a large group of people on the Capitol lawn, a couple speakers talking to the crowd, then go in and talk to the Legislative aides with one voice, everybody will have key talking points to take forward and address the issues. When an agenda is agreed upon, a structured campaign over a number of weeks will lead up to the day at the Capitol. The Department’s Legislative Liaison is a critical piece in keeping everyone informed. 6. Discussion of Funding for the Veterans Trust Fund Secretary Black said we have major issues with the Veterans Trust Fund. The current budget requests $13 million over the next two years in GPR dollars. There is a Process Action Team on the Trust Fund and there was a Stakeholders meeting in April on the Trust Fund. It was noted that a lottery would probably be constitutional. The current administration was not in favor of it, the new administration may be interested, it is not a dead issue but only if it goes to property tax relief. Mr. Hardie asked the Department to put together a history of the Veterans Trust Fund and what it covered and what it did and the history of the funding of the Agency and what it covered and compare it to the GPR coming in. Secondly, break down program-by-program
what each does, how many dollars are given out, and how much it costs to run. These documents will demonstrate how badly off the Department is without GPR, and how much the Department is giving back in all those benefits with so little GPR. The Claims Office brings in tens of millions of dollars a year for only a couple million dollars in cost. Mr. Hardie said when Joint Finance looks at GPR for veterans; they are looking at it across all agencies. The Wisconsin GI Bill Program is funded with GPR, the property tax credit is GPR and if you hear them saying we’re giving you all this GPR already, they’re right but there are all these other things that need to be funded from the Veterans Trust Fund. 7. Commanders’ Issues The Disabled American Veterans spoke about its concern with the wheelchair shop at the Veterans Home at King. The DAV had earlier in the year proposed to pay for a parking lot behind the building. Now, the King Home is looking to move the wheelchair shop from its current location. Secretary Black said there are safety issues we have to adhere to. The first solution would be to maintain that wheelchair shop right where it is. If we can’t, then other options will be looked at by all concerned. Tim Thiers said AMVETS uses the DAV wheelchair shop to provide scooters for their members to get around at the convention. For that service they donate $1,000 to the wheelchair shop. The DAV provides wheelchairs for the Honor Flight Program. Gary Traynor spoke about using the Zablocki bus and vans—authorization comes from whom, and how would you go about arranging transportation at key locations so the membership can attend certain functions. Dave Kurtz suggested communicating with his office at the American Legion and their service officer at Zablocki may be of assistance. Secretary Black concluded the meeting. Thanks for coming; everything brought to the table is valued.