MADISON — Federal funding cuts will spell the end of housing for homeless veterans at two of Wisconsin's three veterans' homes by the end of the year, officials say.
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman sent a letter to veteran advocacy groups last week warning of the changes. The Wisconsin American Legion provided the letter to news outlets on Thursday.
The letter states that federal funding has been eliminated for the Veteran Housing and Recovery Programs at King and Union Grove and will end in September. Funding for the program at the Chippewa Falls veterans' home will continue on a conditional basis, Zimmerman wrote. The letter offered no explanation.
Zimmerman wrote that the WDVA will continue to fund the programs through December if needed, but that it's "not feasible" to use state money for them beyond that point. He did not explain why.
As a result, King and Union Grove will no longer accept new homeless vets and will immediately start transitioning the 19 vets in the King program and the 28 in the Union Grove program to new housing with help from veteran advocacy groups and other nonprofit partners.
"I will personally ensure that each Veteran is compassionately placed and cared for during this situation," Zimmerman said. "While the Federal government's decision is disappointing, we will adapt, innovate and lead."
Zimmerman said that to help compensate for the loss of the programs, his department will look to expand its Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program from 49 to 65 counties. Under that program, case managers work to find stable housing, food, clothing furniture and other amenities for homeless veterans.
The Wisconsin American Legion issued a news release demanding that legislators save the Union Grove and King housing programs. The chapter's commander, Laurel Clewell, called the WDVA's plan to help the soon-to-be-displaced veterans "half-baked."
"Making homeless veterans homeless again is not a solution," said Clewell. "These are men and women who have served this country and its taxpayers honorably, risked their lives and now we can't put a roof over their heads in state facilities dedicated to veterans care?"
WDVA spokeswoman Carla Vigue said in an email that the agency was surprised to hear about the funding cut and hasn't received an official explanation yet from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs despite several inquiries.
Messages The Associated Press left at USDVA late Thursday afternoon weren't immediately returned.
The federal government supplied about $1.3 million annually for the homeless housing program in each of the last two fiscal years, according to the Legislature Fiscal Bureau. The state chipped in about $830,000 annually from its veteran trust fund, an account that covers a myriad of services for veterans, including tuition reimbursement and grants.
The program is housed at the veterans' homes but isn't part of their budgets. Taking more state money out of the trust fund to keep the programs afloat at King and Union Grove would require legislative authorization. Aides for Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairs of the Legislature's budget-writing committee, didn't immediately reply to emails seeking comment.