By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — A state-run veterans nursing home in Racine County is among the more troubled veterans homes in the nation thanks in large part to a stubborn governor who put politics before people once again.
U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville) says the shameful failures at the Veterans Home at Union Grove could have been prevented, just as much of the mayhem during the Kenosha riots of 2020 could have been checked had Democrat Gov. Tony Evers and his administration acted sooner. That includes accepting federal assistance from President Donald Trump.
“All I care about is getting resources into our state to make sure that our communities are safe and that our veterans are taken care of. This incompetency that we continue to see from the Evers administration is beyond frustrating,” Steil told Empower Wisconsin last week on the Vicki McKenna Show.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported, the veterans home most recently has been cited by regulators for failing to investigate reports of patient abuse, not giving residents regular showers, infection control and unsanitary conditions.
In one case, Navy veteran Randy Krall was so dehydrated when he was rushed to a hospital that doctors had a difficult time getting a urine sample to diagnose him. His medical chart showed he hadn’t had water for much of the day. When Krall’s condition deteriorated a few weeks later at the veterans nursing home, no one called to alert the family — contrary to facility policy. A Veterans Home nurse contacted Krall’s wife only after he died.
The veterans home over the past five years has been cited for 62 violations and received fines totalling $250,000. The brunt of those violations and fines have been issued over Evers term.
Mary Kolar, Evers’ secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, has presided over much of the deterioration at the facility her agency oversees. She blamed a lack of staff and frequent leadership changes for the myriad problems at the veterans home, according to the newspaper. She also reportedly told veterans and their families that if they didn’t like how they were treated they could go somewhere else.
As Steil notes, the Trump administration in the opening months of the pandemic offered consultation and staffing assistance to the Union Grove facility. The Evers administration declined the offers.
Evers did the same in August 2020, when Kenosha was burning amid days of leftist-led, anti-police riots.
The governor was slow to deploy the National Guard, and he failed to provide adequate support when he eventually consented. And Evers initially rejected federal law enforcement assistance from then-President Donald Trump in what clearly was an act of political pettiness.
Steil recalled a desperate call to Trump at the time. The president was confused as to why a congressman was calling for federal law enforcement assistance. That’s what a governor is supposed to do.
“I said, ‘Yes, Mr. President, that’s my request.’ He said, ‘Bryan, I’ll do it,’” Steil said. “ “He called the governor’s office and Gov. Evers rejected the assistance. So we see time and time again our governor not taking the offer of assistance when it’s needed most in our communities.”
Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback at the time confirmed the governor declined the Trump administration’s offer to send help to Kenosha. Cudaback snidely added that Evers would “welcome additional federal support and resources for our state’s response to COVID-19.” Evers has yet to spend all of the approximately $5 billion in federal COVID relief he has at his disposal.
The governor eventually did acquiesce to the offers of federal assistance.
Late last month, Steil sent a letter U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure asking for a federal review of the Union Grove veterans home. Steil’s office had yet to hear back from the agencies.
“This is a state-run facility, so the federal government has a role but it doesn’t have the primary role of oversight,” the congressman said. “My frustration is that the Evers administration is not doing its oversight role appropriately.”
“We need to make sure this never, ever happens again because our veterans deserve the utmost care and respect,” Steil said.