Assembly candidates discuss vets home
By Robert Cloud
The candidates for Assembly District 40 – incumbent Rep. Kevin Petersen and Democrat Dmitri Martin – have opposing views about the problems reported at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.
They even have different opinions about whether or not there are serious problems.
“I think it’s a bunch of political smoke and it’s truly sad that politicians are using the veterans and the dedicated staff that care for those veterans as political pawns in an election year,” Petersen said.
“This is a chronic problem that is not only hurting our veterans, it’s hurting our communities,” Martin said. “This has been going on for a long time, and I find it disturbing that we have a representative who has been in office for 10 years and has not fought for fully staffing the caregivers working at the veterans home.”
An Aug. 29 investigative article in the Madison Capital Times reported, “Elderly and over-medicated veterans with complex combinations of physical and mental ailments are not receiving adequate care at King, even as the state brings in millions more each year than it spends to care for its residents, transferring the surplus elsewhere.”
The reporter, Katelyn Ferrel, interviewed 24 residents, family and staff members regarding ongoing problems in King.
Subsequent reports have found medical errors and neglect.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Veterans Affairs released a report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), that all four facilities at the Wisconsin Veterans home in King are now rated 5-stars out of a 5-star system.
Martin blames the problem on the Wisconsin DVA.
“I think the cause of the problem is the veterans administration in Madison,” Martin said. “It has consistently siphoned money from our veterans home in King. It has cut costs by holding staffing levels for nurses at pitifully low levels and by cutting amenities for our veterans.”
Martin noted that staff at King ware working double shifts and forced shifts with unpredictable schedules.
“They’re burning out,” he said.
Martin said the working conditions at King have led to turnover.
“It was made worse by the passage of Act 10,” Martin said. “They’re earning an average of $3,000 less per year. That’s not just hurting the nursing staff, it’s hurting the residents and it’s hurting small businesses and the local economy that rely on their incomes to stay in business.”
Petersen said he has received few calls regarding the recently reported complaints at the Wisconsin Veterans home in King.
“When things come to the surface, my phone lights up like a Christmas tree,” Petersen said, noting his office struggled to keep up with the calls complaining about a decision in 2009 top prohibit therapy dogs in King.
“Now my phone is ringing and residents, their families, employees and volunteers are saying, ‘We’re not seeing this. What’s going on,’” Petersen said. “That doesn’t mean incidents can’t happen at King. They have in the past and they will happen in the future as they do at all nursing homes and institutions.”
Petersen says Republicans, not Democrats, have been responsible for increased staffing at King.
“In my first term under Gov. Doyle in the 2007-08 budget, the DVA requested 48 new positions at King. I fought for 48 positions, but Gov. Doyle authorized 15,” Petersen said.
In the 2009-10 budget, Petersen said Democrats were in full control of the Legislature and the governorship and only requested three additional staff.
Petersen said Republicans in the Legislature approved and the governor authorized 40 new positions at King in the 2011-12 budget.
“In the 2013-14 budget, I worked with my colleagues in Madison and we approved another 110 positions,” Petersen said.
If the audit requested by state Sen. Luther Olsen indicates a need for more staff at King, then Petersen said funding for the staff can be included in the next budget.
Martin points to the link between the DVA siphoning funds from King, low worker morale and reports of inadequate quality of care.
“I’d like to see not only the veterans home audited, but the veterans administration,” Martin said. “The veterans home is the symptom, but the VA is the problem.”
This is the first in a two-part series on the Assembly District 40 election.