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CC December 3, 2009

Commander's Communique for December 3, 2009

 
The Commander's Communique is your bi-weekly source for talking points relevant to the issues of the day affecting the Wisconsin American Legion.  It is intended to be used as a tool to communicate the Legion's message to your members and the public.  Print it out and take it your Post meeting and make sure that everyone is informed.
 
Mid-Winter Registration Underway
Mid-Winter Registration materials were mailed to all of the Posts last week.  All of the materials will also appear in the upcoming edition of the Badger Legionnaire.  We hope to see everyone in Wisconsin Dells January 29-31!
 
Registration Form/Hotel Reservation Information
Schedule of Events
 
If you have questions about the Conference, please contact Jill at (608) 745-1090 or jill@wilegion.org.
 
PUFL Pins Available
The Commander's Paid Up for Life (PUFL) Pins have arrived at Department Headquarters and will be distributed shortly.  There are currently over 150 new PUFLs for the 2010 membership year who will be receiving these very nice pins from the Commander.
 
There is still time to get your pin too.  The PUFL application is available on our website at http://www.wilegion.org/uploads/PUFL2009.pdf.
 
If you became a PUFL in a previous membership year and would like a pin, we are offering them for $5 a piece.  Contact Chris at (608) 745-1090 or chris@wilegion.org to get yours.
 
Major Shift at WDVA - Legion Out Front on Veterans Issues
On November 24th, the Board of Veterans Affairs held a special hearing where they dismissed long-time Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary John Scocos and replaced him with Kenneth Black.  Scocos was criticized by the board for keeping them in the dark on key decisions relating to purchases, donations, and staffing.  The firing came two months after Scocos had returned from a year-long deployment in Iraq and on the heels of several high level staffing changes at the WDVA.
 
Much of the information discussed at the November 24th meeting was generated by a Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation into the operation of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The investigation was called for by then Acting Secretary Ken Black soon after he fired the Commandant of the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, Bill Crowley. The Department of Justice found no criminal wrongdoing, but it did find what has been termed areas of mismanagement. 
 
Scocos, who had served as the Secretary since 2003, has vowed to take legal action against the board claiming that his rights as a veteran were violated.  Title 38 of the US Code provides some employment protection to returning veterans.
 
The Wisconsin American Legion has a long history of acting as a legislative watchdog and protecting veterans’ rights and benefits.  Any major changes occurring at the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) concern the organization and have often spoken on behalf of its members to ensure that veterans care comes before politics.
 
Department Commander Leo Endres was vocal in September calling for more equitable geographic representation on the Board of Veterans Affairs. Seven members appointed by the Governor serve on the Board of Veterans Affairs.  Four of the seven members of the current Board are residents of Dane County.   The Wisconsin American Legion is a non-partisan organization.  It does not hold any specific objections to the members of the board, but we need to be assured veterans around the state are being adequately represented.
 
State Representative Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) plans to introduce legislation that would require balanced geographic representation on the Board of Veterans Affairs. This bill divides the state into seven geographical areas, called districts, and requires that at least one member of the Board of Veterans Affairs reside in each district.  Commander Endres brought the issue to light several months ago and believes this legislation provides for better, more responsive representation.  Other veteran service organizations have since joined the Legion in focusing on the issue.
 
There are other issues at the WDVA that have been brought to the attention of the Wisconsin American Legion by our members.  Currently, there is concern over rising rates at the Veterans Home in Union Grove.  First District Chaplain Vern Wienke is working with many residents who fear they will not be able to stay due to escalating fees. 
 
Many younger veterans have contacted Legion staff with their concerns regarding the manner in which WI GI Bill education benefits are being administered.  Current policy is tending to reduce the impact of the state benefit.  More information will emerge as Legion representatives communicate with state legislators, WDVA and UW system administrators, as well as student veterans.
 
Another issue on the front-burner for The American Legion is legislation relating to the Veterans Trust Fund (VTF) and General Purpose Revenue (GPR).  Last month, Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Representative Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca) introduced legislation that would prolong the solvency of the VTF, which was created in 1961 and is used to fund the numerous veteran programs and services provided by WDVA.  This bill would keep the VTF solvent by injecting $12.6 million from the general fund in each of the next three years. This is estimated to keep the VTF solvent until fiscal year 2016.  The Legion has been a longstanding supporter of using GPR to keep the VTF solvent.
 
There are many serious challenges facing veterans in our state and the time is long past due for the Board of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs they supervise to start focusing on the issues at hand.   Necessary legislation to repair the Veterans Trust Fund has finally been introduced in the Legislature while aging veterans are in danger of having to leave the homes at Union Grove and King.  Instead of solving problems we seem to be creating controversy.  The American Legion has no intention of sitting quietly while opportunities for progress pass us by.  We owe it to our 70,000 members to speak on their behalf,” said Commander Endres.
 
He continued, “We are preparing for the return of 3,500 service members and doing everything we can to ensure that they have a smooth transition home.  We have been supporting their families during this deployment and we will be here when the homecoming events are over and their stories fade to the background.  Homecoming for these veterans and their families will be a process, not an event.  After the photo opportunities is when the true challenges will arise.”
 
The Wisconsin American Legion will continue to work on these issues and others that arise affecting veterans in the state.  We welcome Secretary Black to his new position and hope to have a productive working relationship with Secretary Black and the WDVA Board moving forward.  We look forward to him joining us at our Mid-Winter Conference in Wisconsin Dells on January 31st to address our membership. 
 
The Wisconsin American Legion wishes former Secretary Scocos and his family the best in their future endeavors.  Scocos is an Honorary Life Member of American Legion Post 501 in Madison and a 20-year member of The American Legion.  We appreciate every member of The American Legion who diligently serve God and Country. 
 
 
We value your privacy and will not sell or otherwise share your e-mail address or personal information with any other organization.
 
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