Vets share concerns

Access to health care and education topped the list of concerns veterans voiced during a public hearing Wednesday at the Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center.

Access to health care and education topped the list of concerns veterans voiced during a public hearing Wednesday at the Richard I. Bong World War II Heritage Center.

Rep. Frank Boyle, D-Amnicon, hosted the event. He called it a "unique opportunity to really hear from vets" about their needs and see how to "best serve the interests of the people who have best served America."

Of particular concern was health care.

"The VA Clinic here in Superior is my primary health care center," said Bruce Brown. "From my point of view it could not be better."

But in 2004, the clinic nearly shut down due to pressure from Minneapolis.


"I do want to mention that the lease is up at the VA Clinic at the end of the year," said Laurie Franks, a nurse at the clinic.

Legislators and members of the Wisconsin Department of Veteran's Affairs expressed confidence that the clinic would remain in Superior.

"I think we fought the big fight two, three years ago," said Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar. "I have no doubt the VA clinic will continue." He said it may even expand its focus to reach out to more veterans, in particular those suffering from mental and emotional trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The disorder is silent and insidious, Jauch said. Sometimes, problems such as PTSD don't develop until veterans have been home for a while, according to Franks.

Many veterans at the meeting said it is common to gloss over injuries -- both physical and mental -- to gain release home after serving their country. But, according to Paul Fine of Deer River, PTSD lurks under the surface.

"It took me 49 years to find out I suffer from PTSD," he said. "I was angry all the time, nothing calm, on the edge."

The Korean vet said one of the downfalls of current PTSD programs is the fact that the well-trained individuals who run them are not veterans. They can't understand the kind of stress that comes from serving during combat, he said.

"You have to have a veteran to understand a veteran," Fine said.


Bob Finsland of Superior expressed concern that, when he applied for care at the VA Clinic, he was denied because his income was too high.

Even though he doesn't need the services right now, Finsland said, the rejection came as a shock.

"People need to know if they earn more than $30,000, they're not going to get their benefits," he said.

"It's important to recognize that the nation grossly, inadequately funded veterans services," Jauch said.

The opening of VA clinics in Hayward and Rice Lake have reduced pressure on the Superior clinic while providing closer access to veterans, he said. Although keeping them has also been a fight.

The question of nursing homes or home health care for aging veterans also came up.

"The state is opening its eyes to a variety of long-term health care options that are available," Jauch said.



The Wisconsin G.I. Bill, which provides free tuition for education at a public Wisconsin college, raised concerns for Nick Milroy. The Persian Gulf veteran said that he felt it was unfair for nonveteran students to be paying for it. All Wisconsin residents should bear that responsibility, he said.

When the legislature passed the Wisconsin G.I. Bill, Jauch said, they didn't fund it. Instead, they passed it off to the UW-System.

"That's not right and that's not fair," he agreed.

An increase in the federal G.I. Bill is waiting in the wings to be passed, according to Matt Riddick, a representative from Congressman Dave Obey's office. It would provide free four-year tuition at any public college in the nation.


One of the key points addressed at the meeting was the need to help veterans returning from service make the transition into everyday life. Linking them to college, health care and veterans organizations is vital, said Pete Moran.

"These veterans associations work, but they only work if you have members," said the Vietnam veteran.

Among the crowd gathered Wednesday, two young faces were visible. Steven Baker, a member of the 724th Engineers Battalion of the Wisconsin National Guard, served in Iraq and now sits on the Douglas County Board and the Veteran's Committee. Don Severson, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran serves as senior vice commander of the Thomas F. Stein VFW Post. He said he was in the process of putting a Web site together for the group.


Moran, who serves on the Wisconsin Veterans Board, said the local concerns heard Wednesday are similar to what he's heard at public meetings throughout the state.

"We have a lot to be proud of in Wisconsin and a lot to build up," Jauch said.

But, Boyle said, we have to be vigilant.

"We can't take anything for granted," he said. "As bills go through congress we need to be vocal, call the people in charge and register your vote."

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
What To Read Next
Get Local