Veterans Affairs Secretary visits the Ho-Chunk Nation to offer a listening ear

By Ken Luchterhand

In an effort to reach out to all tribes in the state, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Daniel Zimmerman visited the Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Office Building on Thursday, October 4.
A meal was provided to him and all veterans. He also took a brief tour of the Nation’s buildings and grounds.
“My purpose was to get out and better understand what is going on in the tribes and what they are their concerns are relating to veterans. It’s one thing to have your folks report back to you and let you know what’s going on and it’s another thing to actually experience it firsthand,” Zimmerman said.
“One of the things we were taught early on in our military careers is that those in charge need to be right there on the ground. I apply that same kind of concept to my duties as secretary,” he said.
He and Tribal Agency Liaison Shaun Stoeger visited all 11 tribes over a two-week period.
“It was a very enlightening and interesting experience for me – very valuable,” Zimmerman said.
He said that every tribe has a very unique flavor and there are some things that are common. Some of the common things are an incredible respect for those who have served our nation.
“I wish I could transport that respect to other parts of the state. It’s very heart-warming to see that,” Zimmerman said.
Each tribe has different concerns, some good and some bad. Some tribes are concerned about how far north they are and how close to populated areas, and some have contiguous land while others have land that is interspersed with private land. There are some good things and there are some challenges, he said.
 “I really didn’t understand the geographic dispersion of the tribes. You can look at a map and can see where the dots are, but that doesn’t really say anything until you drive through the woods and you get to the different towns. All of that was very enlightening and gave me a sense of how we want to move forward and what we have been doing so far has been good and valuable.”
He and several Ho-Chunk Nation officials, along with Traditional Chief Clayton Winneshiek, toured the Sandpillow, Mission, and Wazee areas. One of the main stops was the veterans housing facility in Sandpillow. The tour concluded with a visit to the Powwow Grounds.
Following the tour, Zimmerman and Stoeger held a question-and-answer listening session in the Legislative Conference Room.
“There are great questions wherever you go. I don’t recall any surprises.  There was one individual there who was asking about veterans employment,” he said. “Normally I get a lot of healthcare questions and things like that, which is fairly routine because that is usually everyone’s interest. This gentleman was focused in on unemployment and what we’re doing to try to help vets get jobs. I was able to elaborate on our Talent Attraction Initiative and what we’re trying to do to involve all the tribes with that Talent Attraction Initiative.”
A native of New Berlin, Zimmerman now lives in Ripon. He spent his 25-years military career serving in various command and staff positions in support of the tactical Army worldwide.  His experience includes numerous training-related assignments at three of the Army’s premier combat training centers.  Since his retirement from the U.S. Army in 2008, Secretary Zimmerman remained engaged with the military and educational communities.
Zimmerman was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to serve as the 10th Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I want to thank the Ho-Chunk people so much for the wonderful hospitality. I was invited to participate in the dance with the drum circle and I really appreciate that” Zimmerman said. “That was a first for me. It was special for me to be able to participate in that. The hospitality with the Ho-Chunk people was great and I just wanted to pass along my thanks.”