The freedoms and opportunities Americans are afforded every day are owed to sacrifices made every day by military service members, and local and state organizations are doing their part to make sure Chippewa Valley veterans can thrive during their service and for the rest of their lives after their discharge.
Military service often involves service members putting their lives on the line every day, and those who return often deal with a plethora of problems once they re-enter civilian life. Travis Ludvigson, veteran services director for the Chippewa County Veterans Office, said the services the VA office receives the most requests for are those connected to disabilities.
When a veteran suffers an injury, an illness or the origins of a mental health issue that can be traced to military service, a veteran may qualify for a variety of services in the Chippewa Valley.
For example, depending on a few variables such as income level and severity of their ailment, veterans may receive tax-free compensation from the VA and medical care related to their condition. Ludvigson said these cases vary dramatically and cases he has dealt with in the Chippewa Valley have ranged from supplying monthly payments to service members who can’t work due to suffering a back injury during service to providing counseling services to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Another one of the most popular services the Chippewa Valley VA helps area veterans out in is higher education for both veterans and military service members currently serving.
“There are those with the post-9/11 GI Bill who can receive a monthly stipend to help pay for college or higher education,” Ludvigson said. “This is a way for veterans who are relatively recently discharged to be able to go back to school and get into a new career field. And once the federal funds have been used up, there is a Wisconsin GI Bill which will continue to assist them throughout the rest of their education.”
Unique to our state, the Wisconsin GI Bill is a 128-credit program for which those who have been injured during service can apply each semester and have their credits and classes approved for 100 percent reimbursement up to 128 credits (the average course load necessary for graduation at a four-year university) at any one-year, two-year or four-year school. In addition to the veteran receiving these benefits, depending on the situation and income, the veteran’s dependents such as a spouse or school aged children can also utilize the Wisconsin GI Bill and receive 128 credits each as well.
On a daily basis, Ludvigson said Chippewa Valley veterans also have the opportunity to apply for VA-assisted health care based on their financial income and a non-service connected pension. While most of the pension recipients are 65 and show a minimal amount of income, the pension is another source of assistance area veterans are offered for further assistance later in life. All of these services involve the veterans bringing in their discharge form, and while each situation with each veteran is unique many a few categories such as disability, health insurance and higher education are reoccurring scenarios among Chippewa Valley veterans.
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Ludvigson said the services and programs allotted to area veterans aren’t examples of charity or handouts, but rather are things earned by veterans through serving the United States.
“These are things they’ve earned through their service,” Ludvigson said. “Services connected to disabilities are services connected to issues that would not have existed had they not served in the military, so it’s a way for the VA to try and repay them for their service.”
In addition to helping individual veterans and their families, Ludvigson said raising the quality of life among Chippewa Valley veterans helps out local economies and the cities in the region in general through a variety of means.
“Helping veterans also infuses money back into the economy locally,” Ludvigson said. “The individuals who receive services from the VA and receiving payments through a pension, disability or going back to school and starting new careers in the area. It’s a way for money to come back in and help the community as well as the veterans.”
On a state level Carla Vigue, director of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public Affairs, points to a variety of general benefits veterans receive both in the Chippewa Valley and in the state of Wisconsin in general.
Wisconsin is home to three veteran homes, including one in Chippewa Falls, military retirement in the state is tax-free, the Wisconsin GI Bill and VetEd Education Grant help state veterans receive a higher education, insurance is offered through the VA and a variety of discounts are available on a variety of services and products throughout many markets and businesses.
While no amount of money or security can make up for the sacrifice veterans make every day, the hope is the benefits and assistance offered in the Chippewa Valley and the state can at least help area veterans re-enter civilian life and thrive after their service to the United States has ended.