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Letter to the Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold is leading a Wisconsin congressional delegation effort to urge the Veterans Administration (VA) to establish another Vet Center and additional mental health services in Wisconsin. Last year, Feingold led a similar effort which helped lead to the establishment of a Vet Center in Brown County. Every member of the Wisconsin congressional delegation signed the letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in support of establishing more Vet Centers, specifically in western Wisconsin where the veteran population remains one of the most underserved in the state. Establishing a Vet Center in that region would provide access to care for tens of thousands of veterans and ensure that 82 percent of Wisconsin's veterans are within an hour's drive of these vital services.

"With the Army experiencing record suicide rates, it is more important than ever that we provide easily accessible, private treatment for those transitioning out of the military," Feingold said. "Vet Centers have proven to be key to getting veterans into counseling, in part because they offer counseling for combat veterans from former combat veterans. Making sure Vet Centers and the services they provide are easy to reach for veterans and service members is the least we can do after the sacrifices they have made for their country."

Vet Centers provide counseling in a non-medical setting to complement the services provided in VA medical centers and outpatient clinics. With the establishment of the Brown County Center, Wisconsin still only has three Vet Centers to serve the state's 469,000 veterans. States with similar veteran populations have significantly more Vet Centers. Maryland, for example, has fewer veterans than Wisconsin and is one fifth its size but has four Vet Centers. Massachusetts is about one eighth the size of Wisconsin, and has only a slightly larger veteran population, but it has seven Vet Centers.

The text of the letter is below and a copy is available upon request:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs, Central Office
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Sec. Shinseki,

We write to express our gratitude to the VA for deciding to establish 39 new Vet Centers this year, including one in Brown County, WI. The centers serve a vital role in our efforts to reach out to veterans and provide counseling during this time of tremendous strain on members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families. There has been a significant demand for more veterans counseling services in Brown County. This new Vet Center, along with the expanded clinic in Green Bay, will go a long way to addressing that need. We would appreciate it if you could let us know when you anticipate that the Vet Center in Brown County will open.

We also write to strongly urge that the VA establish additional Vet Centers and mental health services in Wisconsin. Even with the establishment of the new Vet Center in Brown County, many of Wisconsin's northern and western veterans are several hours away from a Vet Center. While we appreciate that this region will also receive care from mobile units, we note that it is not possible to get regular care from such units.

As you know, last year the Wisconsin delegation requested the establishment of a Vet Center in western Wisconsin, as well as in Green Bay. See attached. Our previous request included data supporting the need for the establishment of a Vet Center in western Wisconsin. The veteran population in this region remains one of the most underserved in Wisconsin. Establishing a Vet Center in that region would provide access to care for tens of thousands of veterans and ensure that 82% of Wisconsin's veterans are within an hour's drive of these vital services.

We note that both Maryland and Massachusetts, which have the same number of veterans as Wisconsin but smaller land areas, each have seven Vet Centers compared to Wisconsin's three. Meanwhile, as of September 2008, significantly more Wisconsin service members - roughly 5,000 more - have deployed since September 11th, 2001, than have from Massachusetts. This inequity needs to be promptly addressed to ensure Wisconsin's underserved veterans receive the care they urgently need and have more than earned.

Once again, we thank you for your efforts to increase care for Wisconsin's veterans and strongly urge the VA to establish, in 2010, an additional Vet Center in western Wisconsin.


Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

Herb Kohl
United States Senator

David Obey
Member of Congress

Tom Petri
Member of Congress

James Sensenbrenner
Member of Congress

Ron Kind
Member of Congress

Tammy Baldwin
Member of Congress

Paul Ryan
Member of Congress

Gwen Moore
Member of Congress

Steve Kagen, MD
Member of Congress

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