More than Just Remembering

Very soon we will all be celebrating the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day.  For the last 4 years, I have spent Memorial Day with a group of veterans from Mellen VFW Post 2273 visiting cemeteries across Ashland County. As I get ready to join them again this year, I've been thinking about how to honor the men and women who lost their lives defending our freedom.  I want to challenge myself to do more than just remember.

The same is true when it comes to honoring the men and women who lose their lives policing our streets, fighting fires and responding to emergencies. 

Sadly, we’ve lost too many good public servants recently.  Many of you are aware of the young Wisconsin State Trooper gunned down in a grocery store parking lot, Trevor Casper.  You may not have heard about the man whose funeral I attended on Saturday.  Dennis Swenson, a dedicated EMT for the Shore South Ambulance, passed away on May 1st in a house fire.  He died trying to save his 95 year old mother who also perished in the fire.  Dennis left behind an abundance of family and friends; he did not leave behind a family who depended on him for financial support.

Unfortunately, other public servants who lose their lives in the line of duty do leave behind spouses and children who depend on their incomes and benefits.  In 2009 the legislature passed a law that required municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the survivors of a fire fighter who dies, or has died, in the line of duty.  For some reason, the law did not extend the same benefit to the surviving spouses and children of law enforcement officers, Emergency Medical Technicians, Rangers, Foresters and others who lose their lives while on duty protecting the public.

Jason Zunker, A Chippewa County Sheriff’s Deputy and graduate of Maple Northwestern High School, died in the line of duty in 2008.  He left behind a young wife, Lisa, who posed the question, why do we treat the surviving spouses and children of these public servants differently?  It is a good question, one that should be answered with legislation that extends the benefit to the young children and spouses left behind when any of our public safety personnel lose their lives while on duty. 

I am proud to be working with one of my colleagues, Republican State Senator Van Wanggaard, a retired Racine Police Officer, to make this happen.  We are the authors of a bill that he started working on with my predecessor to extend health insurance coverage for spouses and children of law enforcement officers, DNR firefighters, correctional officers and EMTs who are killed in the line of duty.  We need to step up and take care of the surviving families. 

I look forward to celebrating the lives of area veterans on Memorial Day, much like we celebrate the lives of fallen Police Officers each year at the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial on the Capitol grounds in Madison.  But I believe we need to go beyond ceremonies honoring those who gave their lives protecting the public.  We need to do more than just remember.  

Please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance with any state issue.  I can be reached via phone toll-free at 1-800 -469-6562 or by email at sen.bewley@legis.wi.gov.