May 15, 2013
Supporting our Veterans in the Budget
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
One of the Legislature’s most important responsibilities is to care for our veterans. We all know the sacrifices that veterans give to keep us safe. We all know the risks they take to protect our freedoms. After all they have given for us, they deserve our fullest effort to keep them and their families safe both during and after their service to our country.
Now that the State Legislature has begun its review of the Governor’s budget, we are getting a better idea of the Governor's priorities and his plans for Wisconsin’s veterans. I have kept in mind several considerations while examining the Governor’s proposal such as ensuring that the provisions improve upon economic opportunity, increase access to quality healthcare, and makes strides in the available educational resources.
For many of these considerations, the Governor’s budget is a step in the right direction. The Governor proposes increased support to organizations that serve veterans in Wisconsin. Likewise, $500,000 is provided to VETransfer, Inc. which can allocate funds towards small business startups and entrepreneurial training for veterans. These provisions are important for providing economic opportunity and service to veterans. Overall, the funding provided to veteran initiatives is increased, which is crucial for the many important programs operated for the benefit of our veterans. At the same time, I am disappointed at the decreased commitment to the Veteran’s Assistance Program, which was designed to provide transitional housing and support services to homeless veterans. When veterans are in need, we should be there to serve.
The Governor’s budget also includes revisions of Wisconsin’s Tuition Remission program for veterans and certain family members. For years, veterans have been inhibited from utilizing tuition remission for attending UW schools because of outdated provisions that require army records to identify Wisconsin as the veteran’s residence at the time of entry. We should not turn down a Wisconsin resident who served our country because of a technicality. Although the Governor’s budget addresses these issues in part, he still requires 5 years of residency before the benefits are provided.
One issue that needs Wisconsin’s serious and immediate attention is that of PTSD treatment and societal reintegration. PTSD is common among veterans who experienced traumatic events during their time in service. The symptoms of PTSD can be severe but often go undetected and untreated. One of our top priorities should be to ensure the creation of, and adequate funding for, PTSD centers that can help struggling veterans heal. Importantly, we need programs that can successfully identify the symptoms of PTSD so that those suffering can adequately receive treatment. Wisconsin has, frankly, not made the necessary commitment to identifying, treating, and healing those veterans struggling with the symptoms of PTSD and the trauma of warfare. This budget can be a signal of a renewed commitment to our returning veterans.
Although the Governor’s budget provides a nice start, our veterans deserve to fully know that their needs are taken care of. In some areas, the budget falls short of our responsibilities as elected officials. I hope that the Legislature can renew and strengthen the commitment to our veterans in the budget. Continuing to find ways to ensure that our veterans are cared for is not only my duty as an American citizen, but my duty as an elected member of the Legislature.