“Veterans issues are personal for so many, including my family. Both my parents were veterans. My nephew serves now. My dad was a medic who flew rescue missions into Korea. Like so many, his experiences haunted him. He never talked about the trauma until he was dying.”
Veterans served us and it’s our obligation to serve them. When we strive to provide the best service to our veterans, we show our deep gratitude for their service. Correcting the deficits at our state veterans’ homes is a moral imperative in our service to veterans.
As Governor, I will address the very serious management problems facing our Veterans Homes. I will restore funding to veterans’ programs including for homeless veterans (Veteran Assistance Program) and Assistance to Needy Veterans cut by the current Governor in his first budget.
I will restore the advisory organizations including the Board of Veterans Affairs committees dealing with program review, legislation, long term care and financing.
I will stop the current practice of shifting funds away from our Veterans Homes to fund other budget needs at the expense of our veterans. In addition, I will work with the Legislature to allow the public’s ability to see transfers made into and from the Veterans Homes. The current governor removed this legislative oversight in a 2013 budget veto.
I will focus state resources on high quality medical care, recreational opportunities, and well-trained staff. To retain high quality staff, I will fill vacant positions and raise wages, if needed. This includes creating a voluntary PRN pool to minimize staff shortages.
I will make it clear, I have zero tolerance for any manager that retaliates against staff who report abuse or neglect of our honored veterans or their family members. I will create systems and processes to keep Veterans Homes in good repair.
Wisconsin has three veterans’ homes: King in Waupaca County, Union Grove in Racine County and Chippewa Falls. Through these homes and other programs, Wisconsin made a commitment to care for our veterans. But current state officials are not keeping our promise.
Several audits, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), including one released in the past year, provide details on what must be done to improve care at our homes, especially at King.
Our veterans are more in need. For example, over nine years of the audit study, there was a 28% increase in the number of residents at King with dementia and a 262% increase in the residents diagnosed with PTSD. Staffing, although increased a few years ago, hasn’t kept up with the increased needs of seriously ill veterans. Neither has staff training. Vacant positions are increasing. Mandatory overtime may be causing unsafe conditions.
Regular staff shortages pulled caregivers to other areas, leaving veterans without the consistent care they needed.
LAB conducted a survey of staff. Among those who participated, eighty-six percent of staff said they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that King was adequately staffed; three-quarters of staff reported morale as being “poor” or “very poor.” Almost forty percent said they planned to look for another job in the next six months. Over 70% said they were not paid competitive wages and some said they hadn’t received a raise in years. Half said they were not happy with how overtime was assigned.
These are very serious personnel problems that must be resolved.
Auditors expressed concerns related to deteriorating facilities and found the Department of Veterans Affairs did not develop a systematic process for comprehensively identifying and assessing building projects. Auditors detailed a long list of needed projects including several related to potential resident safety.
Auditors documented money transferred from King to other programs. A lack of funds likely led to delayed maintenance, poor salaries and staff vacancies.
Especially serious was the way potential abuse, neglect and misappropriation of residents’ property were handled by management. In the LAB survey, thirty-seven respondents said they experienced negative consequences when they reported neglect, abuse, or misappropriation of property. Over one-third of respondents who witnessed abuse, neglect or misappropriation of property did not “always” report it – likely because they were afraid of negative consequences.
State and federal laws exist to protect our residents. Wisconsin must protect veterans and their families by protecting workers from retaliation when they report problems. We must better train managers so they understand the legal and moral problems of retaliating against workers who speak up. We must discipline and remove managers who retaliate.
We must engage staff, residents, and family members in finding solutions, by creating councils or regular, decision-making bodies that involve everyone in problem solving.
We are all stewards of our veterans’ sacrifices. Wisconsin Veterans Homes face solvable problems. As your Governor, I will fix them.
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