by Benjamin Yount
Gov. Evers’ pick to head Wisconsin’s Department of Veterans Affairs will have some questions to answer regarding what he knew about the troubles at the state’s veterans home at Union Grove, and just what he did to address the issues.
Emails obtained by The MacIver Institute’s news service and shared with The Center Square show current VA secretary nominee James Bond was first alerted of the staffing shortage and problems with care at Union Grove back in 2019.
“If the CNA’s don’t get raises the good ones will leave. And you won’t be able to hire any new ones because it is well known that this place uses forced overtime,” the wife of a Union Grove resident wrote then-DVA Secretary Mary Kolar.
The email said she’d already spoken with and emailed Bond about the same issues.
“Many hiring events have been held in just the seven months that my husband has been a resident. The hiring process is incredibly slow and good applicants go elsewhere while they wait to hear if they’ve been hired,” the woman wrote.
That email was sent in March of 2019.
Bond was included in dozens of other emails in the following years.
They include a February 2021 email that stated veterans at Union Grove weren’t getting proper care or feeding.
“The poor aide was running around and trying to get 20 people up and fed for breakfast,” a Union Grove nurse wrote in an email. “The aide said to me that she was so disgusted getting members up and cleaning them as most had a dark brown ring on their sheets from dried urine they’d been lying in.”
He was included in a December 2021 email from nurses at Union Grove warning of a shortage of nurses, aides, and even kitchen staff.
Bond responded to that specific email, writing that he “recognized the difficulties.”
There was another string of emails again in May of 2022 warning about burnout among nurses and staffers at Union Grove.
“Again, another safety issue. 16 hours worked, drive home is 20 minutes. Assuming you are able to get to sleep in 30 minutes from when you get home, and another 20 minute drive back [to work]. Will give you approximately 4-5 hours of sleep,” a nurse wrote to Bond and other DVA leaders. “How are we supposed to safely function and care for our members when we are forced [to work’ three 16-hour days in a row.”
Those May emails came just weeks before the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran its first piece on the troubles at Union Grove.
The emails shared with The Center Square do not show many responses from Bond.
Gov. Evers named Bond as the DVA Secretary-designee in early January, touting his experience in the agency and his sexual preference.
“James has been a dedicated leader at DVA for over a decade and has served the Department and Wisconsin veterans well as deputy secretary,” the governor said in a statement.
Evers’ office noted that Bond would be the first “openly LGBTQ individual” to lead a cabinet agency.
Bond must still come before the Wisconsin Senate for a confirmation vote, but it is unclear when that will happen.
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Benjamin Yount is a contributor to The Center Square.
Photo “James Bond” by Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. Background Photo “Wisconsin Veterans Home” by Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.