Local control of services for Columbia County’s veterans is the impetus behind a pair of resolutions that the Columbia County Board’s Executive Committee approved Monday, for consideration by the full County Board.
The Executive Committee oversees the county’s Veterans Service Department.
At Monday’s meeting, Veterans Service Officer Richard Hasse recommended that Columbia County join several other Wisconsin counties in going on record on the following matters:
• Advocating that the Wisconsin Legislature clarify state law, to ensure that county Veterans Service Offices are under the auspices of counties -- not the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.
• Returning to the original intent of a 1973 measure that used to offer counties state aid to help pay for the salary of a VSO -- and repealing a budget measure that changed those grants to reimbursements.
Hasse said local control over counties’ services for veterans makes much more sense than state control, because different counties have different needs and priorities, and the entity that knows those needs and priorities best is the County Board, and the County Board committee that oversees each county’s VSO.
“Otherwise,” Hasse said, “we’re not advocates. We’re just mouthpieces.”
The Executive Committee approved both resolutions and will forward them to the full County Board, for consideration possibly as soon as the County Board’s May 18 meeting.
Chapter 45 of the Wisconsin statutes provides for each county to have a Veterans Service Officer, whose job is to help veterans who live in the county, and their dependents, receive the financial assistance and services to which they are entitled
The county’s 2016 budget calls for expenditures of a little more than $177,041 for the Veterans Service office. The county pays the full cost of the office’s operations, including $164,660 for the salaries and fringe benefits for Hasse and Assistant VSO Rebekka Cary.
Hasse said Columbia County used to get an annual state grant of $11,500 to help offset salary costs, so that more money could be available for programs and projects.
But the 2015-17 state budget, which went into effect on July 1, 2015, included a change in the procedure for getting that grant -- to such an extent, Hasse said, that Columbia County no longer applies for it.
For counties that apply for the grant, Hasse said, it now comes in the form of reimbursements for specific expenditures. But there is little or no guidance as to what expenses are eligible for the reimbursement, he said.
“The rules are very subjective,” he said, “and the rules are very confusing.”
For example, he said, one unnamed Wisconsin county was denied reimbursement for the cost of setting up and taking down a display for a veterans event -- even though the county’s VSO submitted, as documentation, a bill from another county department for the work and a copy of the check paid to that department.
Hasse said the approach that Columbia County’s Executive Committee has taken is to fully fund the projects undertaken by the Veterans Service office -- such as the recent efforts to digitize records -- without applying for the state grant.
County Board Chairman Vern Gove said he is pleased with the way the Columbia County Veterans Service Office is run, and state lawmakers and officials of other counties have also complimented the department.
“I want to say,” Gove said to Hasse, “that you and Rebekka do a really good job for our veterans.”