Assemblyman Jesse Kremer took aim at The American Legion in The Daily Reporter recently and claimed that our organization had somehow forgotten its mission by speaking out on behalf of veterans.
Like all effective organizations, we at the Legion have a mission statement that defines our aims: The mission of The American Legion is to provide service to veterans, their families and their communities. Since our founding in 1919, The American Legion has consistently been at the forefront in advocating on the behalf of veterans — most notably on economic issues.
When the founders of the Legion returned from France at the end of the “War to End All Wars,” the national economy was mired in a post-war recession and many veterans were out on the street looking for the means to support themselves and their families. The then-fledgling American Legion’s efforts on their behalf were instrumental in building the foundation of America’s largest veterans’ service organization.
When the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, in August 2016, released a study by accredited experts titled “Prevailing Wage and Military Veterans in Wisconsin,” our leadership took notice. The study maintains that 2,000 veterans in the state stand to lose jobs and more than $113 million in lost wages if the remnants of Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law are repealed by lawmakers.
To our knowledge, the study and its conclusions have not been refuted by credible economic experts of equal stature. This is why, in January, the American Legion’s state Executive Committee adopted a resolution in support of wage protections in state, county and municipal contracts.
Thirty-four thousand Wisconsin citizens have served since the fateful date of September 11, 2001, along with the 14,000 members of the Wisconsin National Guard who have served in the Global War on Terror. Two thousand jobs is a statistically significant number. It means 2,000 veterans and their families are at economic risk and the communities they live in are suffering economically along with them.
What the Wisconsin American Legion has found, through the use of peer-reviewed studies, is that Wisconsin veterans make up a statistically higher proportion of workers in the construction industry than even the national average. Why?
We hear from many returning veterans that they want to continue serving their country and build critical infrastructure for their communities. This is laudable and valuable work that both Democrats and Republicans agree is desperately needed to improve our ailing highways, roads and bridges.
State Commander Daniel J. Seehafer of Horicon understands that the prevailing wage law is a “political issue” for some but nonetheless believes it rises above partisan politics. Seehafer has stated repeatedly at the state Capitol and in various news media reports that the prevailing-wage issue is more a question of “fairness” for veterans and the families they are trying to support.
The Wisconsin American Legion has a broad and comprehensive agenda for 2017 that centers on the absolute demand that we have to do more for our veterans and their families. Whether that calls for more aggressive reviews and better management of our medical centers for veterans, better policies governing opiate use, greater efforts to prevent suicide among veterans or the fostering of more job opportunities — we have to do better.
Veterans are growing tired of political lip service in which promises are made then broken in the name of scoring political points, expediency and votes.
Protecting family supporting wages and, by extension, Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law absolutely are veterans’ issues. The American Legion will not sit idly by when thousands of jobs could be eliminated and millions of dollars in wages lost, leaving our veterans and their families hanging in the balance.