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County fires veterans service officer

When former Douglas County Service Officer Trevor Welsch joined Douglas County, local veterans were receiving about $6 million in compensation and benefits for their service.

In less than two years, that figure exceeds $25 million with 2,500 veterans served so far this year, according to Douglas County Board Supervisor Mary Lou Bergman. She said he doubled the due compensation during his first year with the county.

But Wednesday, Welsch’s employment with the county was terminated over a noncriminal offense in Washburn County.

It comes less than 24 hours after Bergman attempted to justify the expense of continuing a limited-term employee in the Veterans Service Office. Bergman proposed using sales tax reserves as the County Board debated its 2016 budget Tuesday night.

Bergman said Wednesday night that she believes her decision to speak on behalf of the Veterans Service Office was probably behind the termination. After all, during the budget process — with state-imposed restrictions on the county’s tax levy — extending the employment of a limited-term wasn’t included in the administrator’s proposed budget.

"All I can say is Trevor is no longer employed by Douglas County," County Administrator Andy Lisak said Thursday.

According to a termination letter signed by Lisak, Welsch was terminated because of an incident May 9 at a bar in Trego; Welsch was initially charged with a misdemeanor for theft of less than $2,500 after being accused of stealing a wallet. He pleaded no contest to an ordinance violation for theft, which resulted in a $299 fine. An ordinance violation is not a criminal offense.

"While the charge was reduced from a misdemeanor to an ordinance violation, it does not excuse the behavior or its impact on your employment," Lisak wrote.

Welsch said he entered the no contest plea because he had been drinking that night, wasn’t taking medication for combat-related injuries and he didn’t remember the incident. The wallet wasn’t found during a search of his car, home or garage the following morning, according to the criminal complaint.

"The event in question was a single, isolated incident in which alcohol was involved, coupled with my medical conditions as a result of my combat-related injuries," Welsch said in an email to members of the Douglas County Board, appealing the termination.

"I pleaded ‘no contest’ to an ordinance violation as a result of having no memory of the incident in question (documented in court documents)," Welsch stated. "Since the incident, with the support of Dori (my wife) and my family, I have actively engaged in mental health counseling and a medication management program with the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am happy to report that I am doing well with the support of our local VA and my family."

Welsch was hired to serve as Douglas County’s veteran services officer in December 2013. Born in Prairie Du Chien, Wis. and raised in Wisconsin, Michigan and northern Iowa, Welsch joined the U.S. Army after high school rising to the rank of sergeant in 26 months and pursuing a career in human resources. He served as the human resource administrator for the Department of Military Science at the University of Wisconsin. During his career, which started in the late 1990s, Welsch served a 13-month combat tour in Iraq, served as a senior staffing adviser for the Department of Defense, White House situation support staff and White House Communications Agency, and deputy director of human resources for the National Security Agency and Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. He was also the senior human resources technician for Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

The termination comes less than a week after Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos recognized Douglas County’s Veterans Services Office for its commitment to veterans during a stakeholder’s meeting Oct. 23 in Lake Geneva, Wis.

"My interests are with the veterans of Douglas County and continuing to serve them in the best way I know how," Welsch wrote to the County Board. "I am human; perhaps I made a bad decision while under the influence of alcohol and not on medication; and I have taken care of this personally and at no time did this affect my performance as the Douglas County veterans service officer."

Today, the Douglas County Administration Committee meets in closed session "to discuss a personnel matter and consult with legal counsel rendering advice regarding the same." The meeting starts at 10:15 a.m. in Room 204 of the Government Center, and is legally closed to the public.