Wisconsin’s state-run veterans homes are set to receive a total of $7.1 million from the latest $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.
While further details on how the funding can be used are still forthcoming, the Wisconsin Veterans Homes at King, Chippewa Falls and Union Grove will be able to use the $7 million in one-time emergency funding to help improve treatment of veterans during the pandemic, including by enhancing cleaning services, purchasing additional personal protective equipment and temporarily expanding staffing levels.
In total, the latest $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides $250 million in one-time emergency payments for state veterans homes across the country.
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson Carla Vigue said the department is still awaiting additional guidance on how and when the money may be spent, but that they expect guidelines will be similar to previous stimulus packages. Those guidelines allowed the funding to be used for health care-related expenses or lost revenues attributable to COVID-19. Funding was allocated based on the number of beds at each veterans home.
“We are thankful to have the assistance of the American Rescue Plan to help us move forward as we begin to emerge from this unprecedented global event,” said DVA Secretary Mary Kolar in a statement. “Our three state veterans homes are home to about 600 residents and over 1,000 employees. The American Rescue Plan is assistance that will greatly benefit our veterans, staff and communities.”
Kolar said state-run veterans homes will open their doors to visitors for the first time in over a year, a result of the efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 at the homes and get vaccinations.
Baldwin said the stimulus funding will help veterans who are still struggling amid the pandemic.
“The American Rescue Plan provides targeted, emergency funding and resources to support Wisconsin veterans homes that serve the finest among us,” Baldwin said in a statement. “Our veterans have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. They need help and it’s our job to provide it. That is what the American Rescue Plan does, and now help is here.”
Nationwide, the American Rescue Plan provides other assistance for veterans, such as $400 million to provide unemployed veterans with retraining and a housing allowance; $14.5 billion for Veterans Health Administration health care services; $272 million to mitigate the backlog in Veterans Affairs benefits claims; $100 million to accelerate the VA’s medical supply chain modernization; and allowing the VA to waive copays that would otherwise be charged to veterans for VA health care services during the health emergency.
Veterans homes and other long-term care facilities were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the state Department of Health Services revised COVID-19 case and death data, which as of last Wednesday showed 45% of the people who died of COVID-19 were in long-term care housing, such as veterans homes.
During the pandemic, Wisconsin veterans homes counted 70 COVID-19-related deaths among residents: 48 at King; 18 at Union Grove and 4 at Chippewa Falls. The three homes logged 265 total cases of COVID-19 among residents: 179 at King, 62 at Union Grove and 24 at Chippewa Falls.
The three veterans homes saw 295 cases of COVID-19 among staff: 188 at King, 67 at Union Grove and 40 at Chippewa Falls. At King, there currently are 381 residents and 700 staff members; 137 residents and 200 staff at Union Grove; and 68 residents and 120 staff at Chippewa Falls.
Those numbers have fluctuated over the past year due to COVID-19 deaths as well as resident admissions.
6 lives disrupted: How COVID-19 changed Madison
The torrent of disruption to daily life over the past year has been inescapable.
Calendar squares filled with weddings and events cleared. Vacations vanished. Schools shuttered and hand sanitizer was in short supply. We learned new words, like social distancing, herd immunity and doomscrolling.
COVID-19 affected every person, every family. It's taken nearly 6,500 Wisconsinites from us, including 278 in Dane County.
Here are six stories from people whose lives and jobs changed over the past year.
“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”
"I was getting my work done from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day," she said.
Rev. Marcus Allen knew what bringing everyone together could do for their spiritual and mental health. But each time he considered reopening the church, COVID-19 cases surged.
"We’re used to taking whatever comes through the door," said nurse Maria Hanson, who started journaling about the pandemic soon after treating the patient.
"It’s a risk vs. reward thing and I risk my life to save others," said Brandon Jones, who always worried about bringing the virus home to his wife and two kids.
“Usually a funeral is a major step in understanding that a life was lived and the person is now gone,” he said. “If families don’t get that, it’s just really hard.”