Veterans Affairs: Walker budget endangers trust fund - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Veterans Affairs: Walker budget endangers trust fund

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs says the 2011-13 budget proposed by the governor would endanger the Veterans Trust Fund.

In a letter to Governor Scott Walker released Monday, Secretary Kenneth Black said Walker's budget plan would "not provide additional support to ensure the solvency of the Veterans Trust Fund."

The statement also says the Walker budget does not fix the structural deficit in the Fund. Black says the proposal would divert money dedicated to Veterans Homes to fill the deficit and subsidize veteran benefit programs.

Read the entire statement below:

Dear Governor Walker,

The state is facing challenging economic times and I certainly recognize that you have very difficult decisions to make as you prioritize the needs of the state and move forward with the 2011-2013 State Budget.

Wisconsin has a long, historic tradition of supporting its veterans. Even during difficult times, Wisconsin has honored the achievement and sacrifice of those who nobly served this state and nation. The Department of Veterans Affairs has thoroughly examined the Budget Proposal, and while it is a fair beginning, it does not reflect Wisconsin's commitment to provide the benefits and services our veterans need and deserve.

The budget proposal does not provide additional support to ensure the solvency of the Veterans Trust Fund.

At a time of unprecedented need in the veterans community, the budget proposal does not fix the structural deficit in the Veterans Trust Fund by providing additional state support to veterans assistance programs, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, and Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemeteries.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, and numerous other stakeholders have called for state support to ensure the solvency of the Veterans Trust Fund since 2004. Now we have reached the breaking point, and a delayed solution is a non-solution. In this time of extended wartime and economic instability, it is absolutely critical that we continue to fulfill our responsibility to our veterans and we don't push this off onto the next Legislature.

The budget proposal diverts revenue dedicated to our Veterans Homes to subsidize veteran benefit programs and fill the deficit in the Veterans Trust Fund.

The Department is seriously concerned that shifting revenue out of the Homes will lead to a structural deficit in the Homes Fund and significantly undermine the agency's ability to care for members now and to meet their increasing needs in the future.

This is particularly true as the Department prepares to convert an under-performing assisted living facility at its Veterans Home at Union Grove to skilled nursing and to plan for a projected declining census at itsVeterans Home at King. All of which will occur during the time the Department is starting up its newest skilled nursing facility in Chippewa Falls.

The budget does not continue the Veterans Homes' exemption from the bed tax.

In most private care settings, the bed tax increase would be offset by a similar increase in Medicaid reimbursement or daily rates. However, because Wisconsin Veterans Homes are already reimbursed at the Medicare upper limit, payment of the bed tax would not generate additional offsetting Medicaid revenues.

Payment of the bed tax would, however, increase the projected cost of providing care and private pay rates for members of the Homes would need to be increased to recover the costs.

If the exemption is discontinued, $3.7 million would be pulled from the Veterans Homes over the biennium, and private pay rates would increase by approximately $2,200 annually.

The budget proposal cuts veterans assistance programs.

The budget proposal re-estimates projected program use and cuts several veterans assistance programs, including a 38% reduction to Veterans Service Organization Claims Services, a 10% reduction to the Military Funeral Honors Program, which provides funeral honors to over 6,200 veterans every year at no cost to their families, a 19% reduction in Assistance to Needy Veterans, which provides hearing aids, dentures and eye glasses to the neediest of veterans, and a 53% cut in the Veterans Assistance Program, which helps homeless veterans obtain rehabilitation services.

It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA) that 1,000 veterans of World War II die every day. Korean War veterans are being lost in similar numbers. Vietnam era veterans are aging and confronting employment and mental health issues in unprecedented numbers. The veterans returning from the Persian Gulf face limited employment opportunities and unique health issues from their service.

Claims with the USDVA are at the highest levels since the period following the end of the Vietnam conflict. The proposed re-estimates do not adequately reflect the need for increased outreach and increased demand for programs which assist Wisconsin's most needy veterans.

The budget proposal recommends outside contracting for the staffing and operation of the Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls.

The Department is seriously concerned that outside contracting for the staffing and operation of the Veterans Home in Chippewa Falls will create unintended consequences for members of the Home. The Department is actively investigating whether outside contracting will have a negative effect on the costs of care, the liability exposure of the state, and most importantly, the high quality of care provided to members of the Veterans Homes, as recognized by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Also, federal law requires the Department provide at least one member of its staff on-site to ensure federal funding for building grants, per diem and other federal programs. The coordination with the other skilled nursing facilities operated by the Department and the projected savings by centralizing multiple functions, such as finance and human relations, maybe lost under this proposed mode of operation.

Your leadership as Governor is essential to shape and uphold Wisconsin's historic tradition of supporting its veterans. Accordingly, the Department requests your support in working with members of the Legislature, particularly members of the Joint Finance Committee, to introduce budget amendments that address these immediate challenges.

The Department will continue to work on behalf of Wisconsin's 417,000 veterans, their families and their survivors. I look forward to discussing these and other issues concerning our veterans with you in the near future. Together we can provide solutions that support Wisconsin's veterans and serve the best interests of the state. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

KENNETH B. BLACK

Secretary

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