State News

Walker’s veto for King Veteran’s Home faces bipartisan criticism

A provision in the 2017-’19 state budget that would oversee the transfer of funds from one veteran organization to another was eliminated before the budget was signed into law last month.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Officials at King’s Veteran Home and lawmakers from both parties are speaking out against one of Gov. Scott Walker’s 99 vetoes to the state budget which cuts state funding and could result in understaffing, they say.

King's Veteran Home is the largest long-term veteran care facility in Wisconsin and second largest in the nation, providing over 700 veterans and their spouses with long-term rehabitual care.

An audit conducted in 2015-2016 showed that nearly $55 million has been transferred from King to the Veteran’s Trust Fund since 2003. The Veteran’s Trust Fund is an internal agency of the Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs, which pays for other veteran programs and agency salaries.

Carla Vigue, a Wisconsin Department of Veteran’s Affairs spokesperson, defended Walker’s veto, which deleted a provision in the budget to give more oversight of funds to ensure veterans at the long-term care facility have adequate funding.

Care at King exceeds what is offered at most long-term facilities, according to Vigue.

The loss of money for the facility to the Veteran’s Trust Fund, however, has resulted in a shortage of nurses, meaning that more workers have logged overtime hours.

According to the audit, nurses at King in the 2015-2016 year alone logged a total of 65,100 overtime hours, up from 44,300 overtime hours reported the year before. It is also reported that 75 percent of workers at King are experiencing low morale, following a national trend experienced by many certified nursing assistants.

The proposed budget vetoed by Walker would have required the WDVA to obtain legislative approval before money was removed from King, making it more difficult to reduce the home’s budget.

Proponents of the veto decision, including Dan Zimmerman, the secretary of the WDVA, say the oversight policy was unnecessary and added more bureaucracy to the system.

Tom Evenson, Walker’s spokesperson defended Walker’s choice, saying that the additional oversight isn’t necessary because the information is already available to the public.

“These transfers are completely transparent and publicly available information," Evenson told The Cap Times.

Despite the public availability of the fiscal transfers, the understaffing and underfunding at King remains an issue. Prior to Walker’s veto, the oversight provision had garnered bipartisan support.

In response to Walker’s choice to veto this portion of the budget, representatives from both parties have expressed their disappointment with both Walker and Zimmerman.

Diane Hesselbein, D-Middleton, released a statement on Wednesday saying “It’s unfortunate that the professionalism of the staff at the Audit Bureau wasn’t matched or exceeded by DVA Secretary Zimmerman today.”

State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also expressed concern over the decrease in oversight.

“To do our job was to protect the powers of the purse string and to make sure we're being as accountable and transparent as possible," Darling said.  

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