Changes to how Wisconsin veterans access services could be coming in a bill circulated this week by legislative Republicans.
The bill, co-authored by state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and state Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, would consolidate more power within the state Department of Veterans Affairs, make veteran services officers optional for county governments and roll back some of the services the county centers provide.
“The bill also provides that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] may approve a county veterans service consortium to administer veterans benefits and services and makes county veterans service officers optional for counties,” said a Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the bill. “Current law requires each county to elect or appoint a county veterans service officer.”
The bill would also scale back the Board of Veterans Affairs, a nine-citizen committee appointed by the governor, and give those powers to the state Secretary of Veterans Affairs. It would also allow the department to solicit funds on its behalf, a power given to other state agencies. The bill’s authors said this would allow the agency to lessen its financial burden.
“This would enable the WDVA to harness additional funds for capital projects, thereby helping to reduce the burden on the Veterans Trust Fund created by bonding and the corresponding debt service,” the bill’s authors said in a memo seeking co-sponsorship.
Democrats have criticized the bill as cutting services for veterans, despite the memo painting the changes as “technical” in nature.
“[County veteran services officers] are the first line of support for our veterans when they need help,” said state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, in a press release. “They guide veterans through the many federal and state programs available to them, and advocate for veterans with the Veterans Administration and the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Fewer CVSOs means less help for veterans, and that’s a terrible idea.”
The state DVA operates veterans’ homes, cemeteries and regional claims offices throughout the state. It also operates various veterans’ assistance programs and attempts to educate Wisconsinites about the state’s history with regard to the armed forces.