Members of the legislature's budget committee aren't too happy with the state Veterans Department right now.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs has no credibility with any member of that (Joint Finance) committee as of today."
State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) is upset with a Veterans Department memo notifying the veterans' community about possible changes to the Veterans Tuition Remission program within Wisconsin's GI bill . That memo was criticized during a meeting of the Joint Finance Committee this week.
"I'm deeply troubled that the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs would scare the men and women who served this country, in such a reckless way."
Jauch, a Vietnam veteran, says the tone of the email clearly gave the impression that the JFC "was about to take a meat ax to veterans programs." He says the Veterans Department misrepresented the facts and "lead people to an almost hysterical level."
Jauch says, "The fact of the matter is there is nobody on this committee considering cuts to that program."
As it turns out, the budget committee did make cuts to the program that pays tuition for Wisconsin veterans after serving our country. JFC voted 16-0 to eliminate free tuition for graduate school, and limit tuition remission to just the ten years after service. Jauch says the program is more successful than anticipated.
"You have to put some reasonable limits to assure that you can afford to meet your promises, which is what we did."
Other than Jauch's criticism of the email from Veteran Department Executive Assistant Anthony Hardie , there was no discussion on cuts to the program. In fact, Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) had to clarify that they were, in fact, voting on cuts.
"I'm trying to make sure I'm clear, we are limiting the graduate piece, though, right?"
After a brief pause, the response was "yes" from Committee Co-chair Russ Decker.
Jauch focuses on the positive, saying they're providing veterans with $24-million in tuition assistance — $11-million in GPR and $13-million from the tuition students pay. He says when people think of the GI bill, in most cases, they are thinking of a bachelor's degree, not a master's, which is why the committee limited the education to 128 credits.
Regarding his now famous email, Hardie says he was simply "keeping the veterans community informed on pending legislation," which is his job. He says he'd be remiss if he didn't notify veteran leaders of potential changes to legislation that affects their community.
NOTE: Jauch says more vets are taking advantage of the program, and it resulted in an 86-percent increase in the cost. They hope to fully fund the program in the next budget so students don't have to pony up.