With Veterans Day approaching, I want to thank Wisconsin veterans and their families for their service to our country and invite them to attend the Veterans Town Hall I am holding today in La Crosse.
On this Veterans Day, I wanted to give Wisconsin veterans the opportunity to hear from other veterans or share your own story about the challenges of rejoining civilian life.
We can enjoy the freedoms we have because of the brave men and women who have sacrificed to keep us safe. However, many people fail to realize the struggle many of our service members go through when transitioning back to civilian life.
When many of our veterans return to civilian life, they struggle to find good- paying jobs and financial security. We need to make it easier for them to find good-paying jobs.
Unfortunately, the current Republican Tax Bill will make it harder for veterans to find jobs by repealing the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which incentivizes employers to hire veterans. I am working to make sure this critical credit isn’t repealed and in the coming weeks will introduce a comprehensive bill to support our veterans as they search for jobs.
In addition to finding good-paying jobs, one of the biggest issues facing veterans is VA medical facilities struggle to recruit and retain qualified health professionals, especially in rural areas like many parts of Wisconsin.
In recent years a number of VA clinics, including ones in Wisconsin Rapids and Wausau, have been forced to turn away veterans due to a shortage of physicians. The Tomah VA Medical Center has also been forced to cut back services due to problems recruiting physicians. That is unacceptable. I am working on the bipartisan Veterans Access to Care Act to fix this problem and help VA facilities recruit qualified mental health professionals, doctors, dentists, and nurses.
The personal stories and experiences of America’s veterans are the most powerful record that we have to document the sacrifice and hardship of our nation at war. I encourage all veterans, even if they are not able to make it to the town hall, to participate in the Veterans History Project.
The Veterans History Project, which I helped create, uses volunteer interviews to record the experiences of veterans and their families. The stories are recorded and entered into the permanent collection of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center. This project is the largest oral history collection.
Veterans Day is a great opportunity for Americans to encourage veterans they know to share their stories. I have always thought it important for us to honor the heroic, selfless work of our men and women in uniform. By having veterans share their experiences, they can help other veterans who might be struggling with the same problems.
I hope you will be able to join me, local veterans and veterans advocate at 1 p.m. today at the American Legion Post 52.
Veterans Day is uniquely special to me because it is the recognition of all veterans, those currently serving and those who previously served, from all branches of the military, and those who have served in all capacities.
It’s uniquely special and meaningful to me because in my capacity as a public servant, I have the extraordinary opportunity to interact with the wide cross-section of veterans among us in addition to being able to attend memorial services for those veterans who have served our country so honorably.
I get the chance to work with everyone from our County Veterans Service Officers to the leaders we have at Fort McCoy. I get to work with everyone from community leaders to business people who have previously served or are currently serving in the National Guard. I also have the opportunity to facilitate conversations and help solve problems for those I speak with and who contact me with issues where federal personnel are more equipped to help. On top of that, I have the unique opportunity to work with the spouses and families of those currently serving and who have served.
I share this because I wanted to take the opportunity to share the commonality that exists among the variety of individuals and groups I have the opportunity to work with, and it will come as no surprise. The common trait is the desire and willingness to do whatever they can to help other veterans. This is a trait that runs as deep and as strong in our veterans as the characteristics of honor, respect and dignity.
Although consensus can’t always be reached among various stakeholder groups on the best way to help veterans, I think that for the most part, one would be hard-pressed to find parties not interested in doing what can be done to both help and recognize our veterans. Yes, there are a variety of things that have been done and can be done legislatively to help aid in this pursuit but that said, there are also a variety of things that can be done close to home and 365 days a year, from community groups to non-profit organizations focused on assisting our veterans. Here in Monroe County, we’re especially blessed to have Fort McCoy, a tremendous asset to our region, close to home. With this home comes a variety of opportunities to give back.
In 1766, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, had its beginnings as William Franklin, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, signed a charter establishing Queen’s College in New Brunswick.
In 1775, the U.S. Marines were organized under authority of the Continental Congress.
In 1871, journalist-explorer Henry M. Stanley found Scottish missionary David Livingstone, who had not been heard from for years, near Lake Tanganyika in central Africa.
In 1919, the American Legion opened its first national convention in Minneapolis.
In 1938, Kate Smith first sang Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” on her CBS radio program. Turkish statesman Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died in Istanbul at age 57.
In 1942, Winston Churchill delivered a speech in London in which he said, “I have not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
In 1951, customer-dialed long-distance telephone service began as Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood, N.J., called Alameda, Calif., Mayor Frank Osborne without operator assistance.
In 1954, the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, depicting the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945, was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Arlington, Va.
In 1969, the children’s educational program “Sesame Street” made its debut on National Educational Television (later PBS).
In 1975, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution equating Zionism with racism (the world body repealed the resolution in Dec. 1991). The ore-hauling ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald mysteriously sank during a storm in Lake Superior with the loss of all 29 crew members.
In 1982, the newly finished Vietnam Veterans Memorial was opened to its first visitors in Washington, D.C., three days before its dedication. Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev died at age 75.
In 1995, defying international appeals for clemency, Nigeria’s military rulers hanged playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa along with eight other anti-government activists.
In 2004, word reached the United States of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at age 75 (because of the time difference, it was the early hours of Nov. 11 in Paris, where Arafat died).
Wisconsin veterans need our help. As our country and state temporarily shift their focus to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who served this Veterans Day, the moment also lays bare glaring shortfalls in actual commitments to our veterans.
I am an Army veteran of 36 years and have been active in the Wisconsin American Legion for 17. Much has changed over those years in the veterans’ community, in fact, the community itself has changed. We have a new, younger generation of veterans who have served in conflicts since the attack on the World Trade Center and who have a unique set of post-conflict challenges.
All wars have their heroes, but they also produce broken souls and bodies. What we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is at an all-time high, as is massive abuse (over prescription) of pain-relieving opioids. Suicide among our veterans is at an alarming rate – 20 per day, which is more than 7,300 a year. More have been lost to suicide than to actual battle conflict. This should concern all who profess to care about veterans, their families and the specialized health care they deserve.
Every day that I wake as the Wisconsin American Legion state commander I ask myself, “am I …are we, doing enough?” No. We need to get more serious and fight harder for the veterans who are not able to fight.
Well-meaning Wisconsin legislative leaders, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the administrators at state-run health care facilities need to ask themselves the same question. Are we really doing the best for our state veterans and their families? The solutions are complex, but they start with a heartfelt commitment to our veterans’ community. At the Wisconsin American Legion, we need to do a better job of articulating how we are fighting for this new generation, what services we can provide and where veterans can turn for effective health-care treatment and job opportunities.
Money doesn’t cure all ills or solve all problems, but adequately funding those programs that address veteran homelessness, drug addiction, suicide and job opportunities should be an imperative. Debate over what represents the most effective approach is valid, but let us not get bogged down to the degree that we continue to lose our warriors who have survived war. They made it home. They deserve not only our respect and gratitude, but quality services as well. Our veterans deserve better.
Caring for veterans is not a partisan issue. There are those in the Legislature and the WDVA who have accused the Wisconsin American Legion of “getting too political”. This is easy and let me be clear, the Legion both at the state level and nationally will continue to aggressively advocate as we lose veterans to neglect, institutional drug dealing and, ultimately, suicide. It matters little to us whether you have an “R” or a “D” by your name. The 100-year mission of the American Legion is crystal clear – we fight for veterans and their families.
Saturday is Veterans Day and we need to be sure that once the political speeches, hometown parades and news media coverage end that we still stand for the care of veterans. No more empty symbolism and flag waving. Let’s unify and get to work.
This Veterans Day ask yourselves, “are we doing enough for veterans?”
No, we are not. That must change and that change has to start today.
Watching and reading the recent local news has me wondering why our city aldermen can’t “connect the dots” between the widespread abuse of alcohol, their increasing the hours for serving beer and their approval of a distillery on Second Street with the expansion of the Coulee Council on Addictions.
The proposed distillery seems to be a done deal. With our “local culture” I’m sure it could be profitable — but at whose expense?
The City Council needs to remove the blinders, stop ignoring the elephant in the room (the local culture) and seriously question the need for a distillery in a city that’s plagued with a prevalent abuse of alcohol.
Ron Haag, La Crosse