Veterans Board working hard on Veterans Home Ownership Program
(Written by Marlon WhiteEagle)
At their regular monthly meeting, the Ho-Chunk Nation Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee is putting the finishing touches on the Veterans Home Ownership Program policy. On June 6, the Committee held a meeting to go over the policy again. Soon they will present it to the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature for approval. The Veterans Home Ownership Program was created at last year’s General Council meeting and is moving along nicely, a sign that General Council meetings are becoming more productive.
Members of the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee are: Dominic Bell, Andrew Thundercloud, Dallas Whitewing, and Ronald Anwash. The committee advises the Tribal Veterans Service Officer, Sandra Winneshiek, on various issues of services offered by the Veterans Affairs Office. Winneshiek said, “They’ve (the committee) been focusing all their time on getting the Veterans Home Ownership Program up and running. They’ll have another meeting on June 20, and that should be it.” Like other committee meetings, their meetings are open to the public.
Others present at the meeting were Dr. Jeremy Rockman, Robert TwoBears, Errol Whitewing, Sheila Stout, and Lois Behrens. Dr. Rockman was tasked to revise and edit the policy. He said, “The document started out being thirty-six pages long, I edited and edited. Finally, I decided to start a new version and trimmed it down to thirteen pages.” TwoBears was on hand to present information on the location and allocation of Veterans Home Ownership Program monies. According to the General Council Resolution (9-17-2011 ), four million dollars would be dedicated by the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature to fund the program. Once the policy has been approved by the Legislature, the funds would become available in a restricted account. TwoBears said, “The account would be turned over to the Heritage Preservation Department, where the Division of Veterans Affairs now falls under.” The Veterans Affairs Office started out under the Heritage Preservation Department, moved under the Administration Department, and is back under Heritage Preservation.
Lois Behrens brought an issue close to her heart to the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee regarding flag poles issues at the Memorial Day Powwow. Behrens, the daughter of Gilman and Virginia Lincoln, said, “I was assigned a flag pole, but someone took over on my assigned flag pole to raise my father’s flag. There is no system to ensure flag pole assignments. I signed up for a flag pole on Saturday, but who I signed up with, was not enforcing the assignments. By Monday, I was not assigned a pole, I was upset, emotions were running high, and eventually angered by the whole lack of coordination.” Behrens came to the meeting to present a solution to the problem. She said, “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.” Behrens proposed that the Veterans Affairs Office staff be in charge and assign the flag poles for Memorial Day.
All those present were in agreement that some consistency needs to be maintained when it comes to flag pole assignment during the Memorial Day Powwow. Dallas Whitewing, who presented the VHOP resolution at last year’s General Council, added, “We also need to address the lowering of U.S., State, and Ho-Chunk Nation flags at our properties. We had a good system when the flags would be lowered now it’s getting out of hand.” Whitewing told the group about when the flags were down for a local police officer and he was confused about why the flag lowering was authorized. Dr. Rockman looked at the history of veterans within the Ho-Chunk Nation and called for things to be centralized. Rockman said, “A protocol needs to be set. Powwow staff is in powwow mode and doesn’t communicate with the veteran groups at the powwow. We don’t know if the American Legion Post or the Marine Corps League is working with the powwow staff. Veterans should be on the powwow committee and staff.” Rockman was an integral in the initial set up of the Ho-Chunk Nation Veterans Affairs Office in 1997. He said, “That was done through a grant. After it was set up and the staff changed, aspects of the grant were not being met. So funding for the Veterans Affairs Office was cut because they were not living up to the grant. Then in 2002, at the General Council meeting, there was a resolution to reinstate the Ho-Chunk Nation Veterans Affairs Office. At that time, I asked why? It seems like veterans are not valued within the Ho-Chunk Nation. Veterans are like tug of war on the political football field.”
The goals of the Veterans Home Ownership Program are to provide housing to honorably discharged Ho-Chunk Nation tribal veterans, to raise their standard of living, stimulate pride in home ownership, and ensure fairness in its guidelines. Applicants must not have a debt to the Ho-Chunk Nation, must be able to financially able to pay for taxes, insurance, and escrow. Applicants cannot have previously received or inherited a Windfall home, HOP home, or a mortgage through HOP, HHCDA, or any other tribal entity. Applicants will be ranked and scored, with the most needy to receive priority. The policy addresses: Selection and Approval Process, Home Ownership Plans, Financing Terms and Conditions, Existing Home Purchase, and provide Definitions of the policy for applicants. The program will be reviewed annually and any changes to the policy will require approval of the Ho-Chunk Nation Legislature.
Winneshiek said, “After the Legislature approves the policy, it’ll be posted for 45 day review. That’s where public comment can be made. At the next meeting, they’ll be going over job descriptions. They have to post for an Accountant, Contractors, Inspectors, and Builders. They’ll have to hire for four or five positions.” The committee is always looking for more insight into the policy. Anwash said, “Everybody can give input. The more we get the better it’ll be.”