A New Deal for Veterans: Mary Burke’s Plan for Reform

By Urban Media News

Mary Burke

Mary Burke

Wisconsin has changed. Not long ago, it was a beacon of progress in the field of veteran’s affairs: inspiring in the design built around veteran’s specific needs and the participation of our former soldiers in its construction.

Under Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs has abolished advisory councils and committees, legislation has reduced pay protection, and improvements are still needed to provide educational and professional assistance for veterans.

Governor Walker even refused to pardon a decorated multi-war veteran who wished to continue his career in law enforcement, but couldn’t because of a prior felony–from a bar fight shortly after he returned from the war in Iraq.

Last week, Mary Burke announced a plan that seeks to reform Wisconsin’s veterans’ programs and improve the state of affairs for the men and women who served in the military.

Her plan addresses many of the issues that plague veterans today. It outlines how she will work to reinstate the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, a bill repealed by Governor Walker that once allowed victims of wage discrimination to combat injustice in state courts for lower costs and more accessibility.

The repeal removed pay equity protections for many protected groups of individuals, including our state’s veterans.

At the current moment, veterans can only sue employers for back pay– not punitive damages or compensation.

This actually sets our veterans below many other victims of discrimination– removing their rights instead of enhancing them. Burke also plans to aid veterans in obtaining education and job training to help them transition back into civilian life.

She plans to reinstate committees that were abolished by the Wisconsin Department of Veteran Affairs that once allowed veterans direct participation in policy and input, as well as forming another committee dedicated solely to veteran employment and education that would be focused on increasing access and improving current programs.

In addition, she would create a University Services Program Ombudsman in the WIDVA, which would work with the aforementioned Employment and Education Committee. This would provide the service of helping veterans to find mentor programs, tuition and employment assistance, and VA counseling to improve the graduation and job placement rates for veterans in Wisconsin.

Back in 2013, Walker signed an act that permitted admission into Wisconsin Veterans Homes for those who were not residents of Wisconsin at the time they applied.

This was a fiscal decision– not one taken with veteran care in mind. He used this move to increase revenue from the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Burke would convene a task force to study the possibility of allowing Wisconsin National Guard and Reserves members to reside in Veterans Homes.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs has not created an office to work with the Federal Government for the purpose of finding funding and streamlining contacts. Burke plans to change that by requiring an Office of Federal Liaison to work with the Federal Aid Management Service.

Asbestos is a huge problem in the military: roughly a third of health problems from asbestos exposure involve veterans, even though they are only 8% of the state population.

And our (current) governor decided it was in the state’s interests to make it much more difficult for those affected to find justice.

Act 154 created obstacles, shortening time to file a case while extending trial length and delays before a decision could even be reached.

It placed even more burdens on asbestos victims, and in some cases the plaintiffs could die before they made it through the trial.

This act was based on legislation by everybody’s favorite corporate front group, ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council).

By removing protections for asbestos victims, Walker chose corporate interests ahead of veterans.

Burke promises to advocate and organize support to repeal this law, and empower veterans to seek justice for the wrongs against them.

The final element of Burke’s plan is to reintegrate veterans into the process through grassroots participation and councils.

She would require the Secretary of the WDVA to reinstate the County Veterans Service Officers Advisory Council to provide greater veteran input into the operations of Veterans Homes, and forge committees to shovel in veteran input by the truckload to improve the quality of service provided to them.

Mary Burke values veterans. She, unlike our current governor, will never put their interests behind those of corporations or profit margins.

With a detailed and well formed plan at her side, there is no better candidate who cares and will serve the veterans as well as they’ve served us.

In the opening lines of her plan, Burke writes, “Every man and woman who has served in uniform is a vital asset to the future of our state.”

We cannot leave them behind. Wisconsin’s veterans and their families deserve a governor who will fight for them, and an administration that values them.

They fought for us: now we can fight for them.