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Single-payer advocates pressure Rep. Ron Kind during La Crosse listening session

Despite pressure from advocates, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said he’s not ready to support a single-payer health care bill.

Kind said he likes the idea of publicly-funded health insurance but has logistic and political concerns about how it would work and what it would cost.

“It’s an aspiration I share,” Kind said. “People feel passionate about it. But we’ve got to pay for it.”

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Viroqua physician Taryn Lawler voices her support for a single-payer healthcare system Monday during a listening session held by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind at Western Technical College.

Single-payer advocates packed Kind’s first 2018 district listening session, which drew about 60 people — including the Congressman’s mother — to the Western Technical College campus in La Crosse Monday afternoon. The message was clear: sign on to House bill 676, which would establish a “Medicare for All” system.

Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, was elected to an 11th term without Republican opposition in 2016 after defeating a primary challenger who championed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ healthcare plan. He said Sanders’ bill needs work and that Republicans, who control the House and Senate, are still intent on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“That’s where the fight is today,” he said.

Constituents at Monday’s meeting urged him to use his knowledge and party clout to improve the bill.

Dr. Taryn Lawler, a family practitioner from Vernon County, said the insurance industry is not interested in lowering costs and asked Kind how he could be transparent on the issue when three of the top five donors to his last campaign were insurance companies.

“I’m a fierce independent voice in Washington,” Kind responded.

More than 12 percent of the nearly $2 million Kind received during the 2016 election cycle came from the insurance industry, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Federico Escobar said he slipped on the ice and hit his head during a short period when he was without health care. The concussion landed him in the intensive care unit for two days, where he was more worried about how he would pay the $30,000 bill than about his health.

Escobar said he never had to worry about coverage when living in Spain, Colombia or Sweden and can’t understand why people do in “the most powerful country in the world.”

“This is not a first-world country for a lot of us anymore,” said Evan Dvorsak, an organizer with the Wisconsin Health Justice Campaign.

Asked by one constituent what would convince him to support a single-payer system, Kind said he first wants to address disparities in Medicare reimbursement rates (some doctors and hospitals are paid more for the same services than others), lower health care costs, and convince the majority of Americans that it would be a good idea.

“People with employer health care — it scares them,” Kind said. “That’s the political reality right now.”

Dvorsak said he’s been knocking on doors in Vernon County, where he’s found strong support for government-funded health care.

“Single-payer healthcare is more popular than you are in our county, Mr. Kind,” he said. “We’re going to get Congress back, but only if you inspire us.”


Burnished in history: How an AP photo showed the cost of war

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — Dallas Brown can still see the bullets coming for him 50 years later, smacking into the dirt at his feet as north Vietnamese soldiers fired on his platoon during an ambush deep in the jungle.

Minutes later, as the deadly firefight wound down, Brown and his fellow soldiers in the 101st Airborne would be immortalized.

In one of the most searing images of the Vietnam War, Brown grimaces as he lies on the ground with a back injury. Not far away, a platoon sergeant raises his arms to the heavens, seemingly seeking divine help.

Landing on the front page of The New York Times, the black and white image by Associated Press freelancer Art Greenspon gave Americans back home an unflinching look at the conditions soldiers endured in what would become the war’s deadliest year. Captured on April 1, 1968, it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and appeared prominently in Ken Burns’ recent Vietnam War documentary.

But for the young Americans who have decided to talk about it a half-century later, it was merely a moment in another sweltering day in a Southeast Asian jungle with well-hidden enemies all around. Some of them have spent years putting the experience in perspective.

“When I look at that picture now, I say, ‘If I can survive that, I can survive anything,’” said Tim Wintenburg, who in the photo helps carry a wounded soldier over brush hacked away to create a helicopter landing zone.

Sgt. Maj. Watson Baldwin has his arms raised to guide in a helicopter that would take away the wounded men, including one shot in the leg by the Vietnamese soldier who was firing at Brown. Baldwin died in 2005, according to Fort Campbell officials who recently tracked down soldiers in the photo.

Brown, who lives near Nashville, and Wintenburg, of Indianapolis, met with an Associated Press reporter at Fort Campbell in Kentucky to recount the events surrounding the photo — their first news media interviews ever on the war.

After he received his draft notice in 1965, Wintenburg visited a recruiting office and was told he looked “like Airborne material.”

By early 1968, he was 20 years old and on the front lines.

Brown, who was 18 when he landed in Vietnam, remembers being inspired by “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” He was encouraged to go through airborne training. Both men ended up at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne.

In the spring of 1968, Brown and Wintenburg’s squad was in the dangerous A Shau Valley on a weekslong “search and destroy” mission, meaning they never took prisoners. Firefights were commonplace.

Brown recalls their battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, telling them before one mission: “You get a body count, you get a prize.”

“To my knowledge we might have taken a handful of prisoners the whole time we was in Vietnam,” Brown said.

The soldiers were hiking up a slippery mountain trail after a monsoon when they paused to eat lunch.

Brown, sitting on his rucksack with his M-16 rifle across his lap, thought he saw a sapling move down a ravine. He didn’t feel any wind. He switched his rifle to full-automatic as an enemy fighter stepped into view.

Known in the platoon as “hillbilly” for his Tennessee drawl and proficiency with a rifle, Brown fired on the first north Vietnamese soldier, killing him and then another behind him. He was reloading when a third enemy fighter fired back.

“You know you see these movies where you see clods of dirt jumping up? I could see them, I mean they was coming right at me and that’s when I got off that rucksack,” Brown said. “I thought, this guy, he means to kill me as sure as the world.”

Brown lunged for cover, and a bullet struck the leg of a soldier who had been behind him. Once the ambush was put down, Brown carried the wounded man up the hill, injuring his back on the way.

Brown grimaced as the photo was snapped. Wintenburg, who had lost his helmet, helped the wounded soldier up to the landing spot. He glanced back toward Greenspon.

Greenspon now lives in Connecticut. He declined to be interviewed, saying the soldiers should always be the focus of any story about the photograph.

Brown and Wintenburg each spent about a year in Vietnam, and both men struggled with anxiety for years. But now, 50 years later, they relish opportunities to reunite with fellow 101st Airborne members.

Brown has a copy of the photo hanging in his home, and he has plenty of stories of how he convinced relatives and friends that he’s in it. A few years ago, Brown’s granddaughter and her boyfriend — now her husband — asked about it. Seeing it through their eyes reminded him of the growing pride he now takes in his piece of history.

Wintenburg shares that pride, though he is perhaps more sanguine about what led him to that moment.

“We didn’t really have a choice back then,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”

“When I look at that picture now, I say, ‘If I can survive that, I can survive anything.’” Tim Wintenburg, Vietnam veteran

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Great Rivers United Way, short of goal, may have to trim allotments; next campaign leaders announced

ONALASKA — Great Rivers United Way might have to cut allotments to member agencies because it is $85,000 short of its 2017-18 fundraising goal, but it already is girding for next fall’s campaign, announcing the leaders of its 2018-19 fundraising drive.

Kolek

Palmberg

Heading the next campaign, the wheels of which will turn faster throughout the summer in the run-up to its formal launch in September, are Tim Kolek, community bank president at US Bank, and Rob Palmberg, strategic planning vice president at Dairyland Power Cooperative.

Kolek and Palmberg know each other well, as longtime neighbors and friends in the town of Holland in which their families have socialized often, including activities such as gatherings around bonfires, and camping and fishing together.

“It helps that we know each other,” Kolek said. By way of contrast, they travel in different professional circles, which will be a plus when it comes to generating support among diverse companies.

“Another benefit is the two of us have good support at home,” he said.

“I’m encouraged by the fact that Rob has risen up the ranks at Dairyland,” Kolek said. “We have different circles of people that you couldn’t get if you picked two bankers, or a banker and an accountant.

“We’re a little bit different, so we can split duties,” he said.”

Palmberg, who has been at Dairyland since 1995 and is a United Way board member, said he has chaired Dairyland’s team as a United Way pacesetter company several times.

“I enjoy getting out and meeting people,” especially as a Rotarian, “talking to people and sharing our common goals,” Palmberg said.

Kolek is a longtime musician who is lead singer and guitarist for the three-member band Audio Jack, which played at GRUW’s annual meeting last week.

“I told Rob that somehow we could tie the music and friendship together,” Kolek said. “I’m sure other bands are going to expect a call from me. If every band it town would donate a gig, that could be big.”

Meanwhile, the current campaign, which Mike Klauke of Klauke Investments and Financial Services in Onalaska chaired single-handedly with support from United Way staffers, still has a little time left to reach its goal and avoid cutbacks.

“Donations are still trickling in,” GRUW executive director Mary Kay Wolf said Monday, 12 days after the Jan. 31 campaign deadline. “We are currently poised to reach the $2 million mark, which, unfortunately, will result in yet-to-be-determined but across-the-board funding cuts.”

The goal is $2.09 million, $5,000 above last year, when the Onalaska-based agency hit its target with a few last-minute checks.

GRUW, which covers the counties of La Crosse, Buffalo, Monroe, Trempealeau and Vernon in Wisconsin, as well as Houston County, Minn., works with 28 partner agencies that receive funding for 76 programs.

“Our Jan. 31 campaign deadline is based on our allocation procedures, and there is some cushion time built in,” Wolf said. “Anyone wishing to help reduce the cuts to our funded programs may still give in support of the 2017-18 campaign.”

The nonprofit organization will have a better handle on the final campaign tally after its Feb. 22 board meeting, she said.

Anyone who still would like to contribute can do so at GRUW’s web site, by calling 608-796-1400 or via text, following directions on the web site.


New state council puts focus on homelessness

MADISON — The state on Monday quietly began a new era for addressing homelessness.

The new Interagency Council on Homelessness, chaired by Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and including the heads of eight state agencies and service providers, met for the first time Monday afternoon to get a sense of the challenges faced by a highly vulnerable population and how to better address them.

The council is a centerpiece of recent Republican legislation and budget provisions on addressing homelessness. It’s seen as a way to put top officials at the table to create a more holistic approach while pursuing best practices and efficiencies.

Democrats and homeless advocates had pushed for more, especially in the area of funding, but the council itself won broad bipartisan support.

“This day has been a long time coming,” Kleefisch told the 13-member council in the ornate governor’s conference room at the state Capitol. “I’m extremely enthusiastic about the work we can accomplish with this group.”

Kleefisch concluded the 90-minute session by asking the council to come back with ideas on how the state might most quickly have an impact on prevention, children and veterans, and on moving people toward employment as part of their path to housing and stability.

“The people around this table are the silo-crashers,” she said, adding that she also hopes for examples of best practices and systems that are broken.

The bill to create the council also designates a council director in the Department of Administration, with compensation up to $95,000 for the position, and the state is now moving toward a selection, Kleefisch said.

Joseph Volk, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, which had lobbied for the council, later said, “I’m elated. No one thought this first meeting was going to solve the problem (but) you’ve got the very top levels of state government who for an hour and a half talked about homelessness.”

Hopes for increased attention to homelessness rose through 2016 and 2017 as Kleefisch made the issue a priority and the coalition offered specific policy and budget recommendations, which echoed problems raised by the Wisconsin State Journal in a nine-month project in 2016.

The challenges are daunting.

Between October 2016 and September 2017, homeless services providers in the state reported serving 20,567 people in emergency shelter and transitional housing, Adam Smith of the Institute for Community Alliances, which runs Homeless Information Management Systems for Wisconsin, told the council.

Of that number, 42 percent were in families with minor children, 9.4 percent met the federal standard for chronically homeless, 6.5 percent were veterans and 26.5 percent were younger than 18, Smith said.

The homeless are everywhere, Smith said.

The state has four continua of care, federally required collaborations of homeless-service providers, in Dane, Milwaukee and Racine counties, and one for the balance of the state. Smith said 27 percent of clients were served in Milwaukee County, 14 percent in Dane County, 4 percent in Racine County, and 55 percent in the rest of the state.

“It’s real,” Kleefisch said later. “And it’s all over the state.”

The council includes the superintendent of public instruction, the secretaries of Administration, Children and Families, Corrections, Health Services, Veterans Affairs and Workforce Development, and the executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, as well as the continua of care.

On Monday, it only began to scratch the surface of the issue, with members offering insight into current practices, challenges and opportunities

The new state budget, for example, creates a homeless services coordinator to develop a waiver to use Medicaid funds for intensive case management to help move the homeless to permanent housing, Health Services Secretary Linda Seemeyer said.

“We’re looking into what other states are doing,” she said.

Afterward, Torrie Kopp Mueller, hired last year by Madison as the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium’s first federally funded continuum of care coordinator, said, “I think bringing people to the table is the first step. These are people who have not been to the table before.”