When I was growing up in Cleveland, my older brother, Chris, was drafted into the Army and was deployed to Vietnam where he served until 1970. In that war, over 55,000 service members lost their lives, many more were wounded.
My brother was lucky; he was able to avoid injury and return home. I was thrilled to have my brother back, but it was obvious that the experience changed him. Like many veterans, he doesn’t like to talk about the war.
The sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make is immense. For far too many, the conflict does not end when their service does.
For the last few years, I’ve been working with my colleagues in Madison to find permanent funding for a pilot program that provides outreach, mental health services and support to veterans. With the new governor’s support, the funding has been secured in the recently signed 2019-21 state budget.
I’ve written on the budget process over the last several months, concentrating on the larger elements such as Medicaid expansion, school funding and infrastructure investment. While I objected to several provisions of the budget, there are many things that I support.
Now that the budget has been signed into law, I want to highlight some of the portions of the budget that don’t often get reported on.
Gov. Evers proposed, and the Joint Finance Committee agreed, to permanently fund the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program (VORP), which creates a statewide network to provide outreach, mental health services and support to veterans. The program started in 2015 when Wisconsin secured a federal grant. Unfortunately, that funding ran out.
A bipartisan group of legislators fought to find permanent funding for the program, but weren’t successful in convincing the previous administration to make that commitment.
During the last legislative session, we were able to get one-time funding to continue the program after the federal money ran out, but the program was scheduled to be ended June 30.
I’m happy to report that the 2019-21 budget creates a biennial appropriation from the veterans trust fund to continue the program now and into the future.
In the 25th Senate District, we are lucky to be served by VORP coordinators Paul Huber, who serves Douglas, Bayfield, Ashland, Iron, Washburn, Sawyer, Barron, Burnett and Polk counties, and Todd Marks, who serves Price and Vilas counties.
VORP coordinators are veterans themselves and work closely with county veteran service officers statewide to help veterans and their families in need of assistance. VORP coordinators have been critical in connecting vets to services such as housing, food, clothing, education and employment.
The budget is a big document and there is a lot to take in. While it’s easy to get caught up on one or two of the hot-button issues, I think it’s part of my job to highlight for my constituents some of the less talked about, but no less important programs helping our local communities. I’m glad to know that VORP will continue serving the veterans who have served us.
If you or someone you know is a veteran in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to either Paul Huber or Todd Marks. Paul can be reached at 715-558-2557 and Todd’s phone number is 715-401-4821.
Sen. Janet Bewley represents the 25th District in the Wisconsin Senate.