Veterans Advisory Board meets to discuss concerns

By Marlon WhiteEagle

The Ho-Chunk Nation Veterans Advisory Board met to discuss concerns faced by tribal veterans. The board consists of voting board members from five districts.
The board member from District 1 is George Stacy. George Stacy is an Army veteran and has served on the board for one year.
Jim Greendeer is the District 2 board member. Jim Greendeer is Marine Corps veteran, who served in Vietnam, from Tomah.
The District 3 board member is Dave Radtke.  Radtke is an Army veteran, who retired from the Kohler Company in Sheboygan. He has served as a board member for four years.
District 4 is represented by Anthony Winneshiek.  He served in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996, and lives in Milwaukee.
Dale Stevens, an Air Force veteran, is the District 5 board member.
The first order of business was to elect a new chairperson. Dave Radtke was the acting chairperson, since he is the vice-chairperson.
Winneshiek was elected to serve as the new Veteran Advisory Board chairperson, and took over the meeting from then on.
Veterans Home Ownership Program Project Manager Kyle Funmaker and Residential Service Coordinator Michelle Winneshiek gave an update on the program and the process to home ownership.
Currently, Home Ownership Program operates on a 10-10-10 selection process, where annually, 10 elders, 10 non-elders, and 10 veterans are selected for home ownership opportunities.
The selection of applicants are from those who applied in 1994 to 1996.
“Our list is extremely long, but we only heard back from two people in the last selection pool.  We send out a letter and give them 30 days to respond,” Funmaker said.
“If we don’t hear from them, we go back and pick 10 more applicants.”
“Home Ownership Program is using addresses from Enrollment, so if your address changed, be sure to update our office,” Winneshiek said.
“Once selected, we do an affordability assessment.”
Veterans must meet income requirements to pay their mortage, taxes and insurance. They must not have debt that is delinquent or in default.
Funmaker did say they were working on presenting changes to the Act to address wording that limits their ability to fund veteran’s home purchases.
“Veterans get very excited when progress goes their way,” Chairperson Winneshiek said.
The Act doesn’t address having IRS payment arrangements in place, there’s no appeal process included, and is a once in a lifetime benefit.
Radtke mentioned his concerns about being able to build on his own to build a home with more value.
“I could build myself a $250,000 valued home with the $125,000 allowed in the program,” Radtke said.
“I’d still have to get a loan, or have a lender, since the program would only pay off a mortage.”
The deferral process was also discussed. Deferrals used to have two year time limit, then that changed to no time limit.
Dale Stevens brought up the issue of who and how DD214s were verified. The Veterans Home Ownership Program is currently having Jackson County Veteran Service Officer Randy Bjerke to verify military and combat service.
Veterans must have an honorable discharge to be eligible. Combat veterans receive a grant, not a loan, for home ownership.
The Reality Division has a listing of tribal trust land property for tribal members to build on.
The Veterans Advisory Board had made a plaque to give to the family of Domonic Bell. Bell served as the chairperson for the veterans’ board.  Bell passed away in 2015 and served on the board from 2004 until the time he passed.
Next, the Veterans Advisory Board heard from Conroy Greendeer Jr. about the proposed Veteran Service Award, which would be a monetary award to all tribal veterans.
Greendeer Jr. presented the award in which all Ho-Chunk veterans regardless of discharge would be eligible.
“I came here because I wanted to hear what the board would recommend to determine eligibility requirements. I want to know who will determine the amount of the award, and if it should be awarded annually, quarterly, or monthly,” Greendeer Jr. said.
“Legislature says they value veterans. We’ll leave it up to them to show much they really do with this the proposed Veterans Service award.”
Greendeer plans to present the Veterans Service Award at the annual General Council meeting. He plans to have two tiers for the award. One for honorable discharges, and one for dishonorable discharges from military service.
General Council Advocate Joy Thompson-Bonanno represented information to the veterans’ advisory board about the upcoming General Council meeting.
She shared a listing of all General Council resolutions that were passed since 2000 to 2016.  There were 134 passed resolutions included in the information.
“I’ve been requesting update from the Legislative attorney, but no update was given,” Thompson-Bonanno said.
“They do a lot of it in executive session. They form committees and workgroups but you must be invited to attend those meeting.”
The discussion moved to the General Council resolution that passed in 2015 to create a Department of Veterans Affairs to administer the Veterans Home Ownership and other veteran programs.
Legislature has yet to put forth an Establishment Act for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans Affairs remains a division under Heritage Preservation, and Housing is running the Veterans Home Ownership program.
In the same year, 2015, the General Council also passed a resolution to create a Department of Natural Resources and Agriculture. Both departments have Establishment Acts created.
The Veterans Advisory Board will meet four times per year based on budget constraints.