Helping Our Heroes

Joe returned from war to find his world turned upside down. His mom passed away and his father moved. His brothers were scattered to the wind and his own struggles ended in homelessness.

Peter was treated for PTSD but still fought to hold down a job. When I met him, he was homeless and really unable to navigate the bureaucracy to find any help.

Jody remembers growing up in an alcoholic family. She confronted violence during her service and now fights the memories of violence in her own family.

The names have been changed in my story but the pain is real.

The veterans I mentioned are all under age forty. Their lives are still ahead of them but forever changed when they answered the call to serve our country.

The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs testified before a legislative committee about the needs of veterans returning from 10 years at war.  They bring back the challenges of being in combat for three, four or five tours.  Many are at risk for suicide. Some suffer from multiple amputations, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury. Our heroes struggle with unemployment, divorce and homelessness. 

Memorial Day we pay homage to those who died in service to our country. One of the most profound ways we honor those who passed on is to care for those who remain.

Saturday night I spoke with a man who worked in the Department of Military Affairs. Like all state employees I talk with these days, he is afraid. For his future and the future of those he serves. 

The Administration says the deep budget cuts are necessary because the state is broke.  But recent revenue estimates show us the economy is rebounding and state tax collections are improving. Across our district I am holding Town Hall meetings and asking residents how they would allocate the hundreds of millions of dollars now available with the improving economy.

At my recent Town Hall meeting in Black River Falls Linda talked about how critical it is to invest in services for veterans. Even in past budgets, services for veterans - especially homeless veterans - were not adequate. This budget cuts services for homeless veterans, those veterans in need and the personal loan program for veterans.

In the Alternative Budget I wrote I fully pay for these programs. It is the least we can do to serve those who have served us.

This week the Governor will sign a bill making it harder for people to vote. One group affected by this new law is homeless veterans. They will not be able to vote. Neither will veterans without a current, accurate state-issue photo ID that has the exact address of their current home and a picture that reasonably resembles the veteran. A VA ID does not count. This is just not right.

Urban residents and seniors are far less likely to have a current, accurate photo ID. The numbers are staggering. Roughly half of all African American and Hispanic citizens and over a quarter of seniors do not have a current, accurate photo ID. While much discussion of the soon to be Voter Restriction Law focused on seniors, not much has been made of the effect on veterans - those who fought to defend our rights and the rights of those abroad.

Remember the purple thumbs of those who voted in Iraq? The men and women who risked their lives to defend the right of Iraqi citizens to vote should not return to hassles when they exercise their own right to cast a ballot.

Yet this is exactly what will happen for the men and women who do not have a state-issued photo ID or passport or tribal ID that resembles them and shows their current name as it appears on the voting list and their current address.

Wisconsin is about to become the state with the strictest photo ID law for voting. At the same time we honor those who served and passed on, let us also honor those who served and live among us. Helping them exercise the rights veterans fought to defend would be a good start.