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U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin makes a stop in Hudson

Angel Zimmerman, left, co-founder and COO of the River Falls company Sajan, shakes hands with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin following a lunch meeting at Pier 500 in Hudson on Wednesday, Aug. 6. In the background, from left, are UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen, St. Croix EDC. Executive Director Bill Rubin, Baldwin Area Medical Center CEO Alison Page and Summer Seidenkranz, owner of National Refund & Marketing Service in New Richmond.1 / 2
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, leaves Pier 500 Restaurant in Hudson on Wednesday, Aug. 6, after a lunch meeting with area business leaders. Baldwin met with members of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp. for a discussion about economic development, and then had a look at the St. Croix River bridge under construction north of Hudson.2 / 2

A stop at Lock and Dam 6 in Trempealeau, lunch with business leaders in Hudson and an update on the St. Croix Crossing project were on the route as U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin toured Wisconsin’s freshwater coasts.

During a stop in River Falls last week, Wisconsin’s junior senator said the August recess gives her an opportunity to travel the state, meet people at work and look at areas where legislative action has been successful.

Baldwin said the tour -- which included visits to fresh water science and research facilities and water-related infrastructures -- focused on how the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and other major waterways, like the St. Croix River, contribute to the state’s economy and quality of life.

Last week’s stops were in western Wisconsin, ending Friday at the Port of Duluth-Superior where she visited Fraser Shipyard and the Twin Ports VA Clinic. Her trip continued down Wisconsin’s east side with stops at a number of places on Lake Michigan, touring factories and manufacturing sites and tourist areas.

“One of the things I've been working on as a senator is authorization of the Great Lakes restoration initiative which deals not just with the Great Lakes basin but with the surrounding habitats to try to restore these bodies of water to full health and their habitats to full health," said Baldwin.

She supported the Water Resources Development Act, which was signed into law in May. The legislation authorizes funding to renew locks and dams, provides harbor and river maintenance and assists with flood protection.

VA reform

As well as touring the Superior outpatient clinic Friday, Baldwin visited the Veterans Administration center in Tomah and the Chippewa Falls outpatient facility last month as Congress worked on legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs and expand veterans’ access to timely health care.

“That’s actually something that got through both houses of Congress last week,” said Baldwin, noting bipartisan support.

She said the legislation is an appropriate response to long waiting lists both for older veterans and for the younger ones who’ve returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with a “new array of health challenges.”

The legislation gives authority to the VA to quickly remove and replace officials found to have been involved in mishandling of veterans’ medical care or exhibiting poor job performance.

“That was clearly wrong and scandalous,” said Baldwin of the practice at an Arizona facility that kept two sets of records to cover up long delays in getting medical care for veterans.

The new law allows some veterans to see private doctors outside the VA system, improves the delivery of care to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military and extends a program that provides housing for veterans with traumatic brain injury.

The base problem, said Baldwin, was that the VA doesn’t have the workforce it needs to respond to veterans’ needs.

She said a provision in the bipartisan compromise was modeled after a bill she authored and aims to increase the number of trainees by 1,500 new medical residents in the next five years.

When the scandal first broke, Baldwin said, her office surveyed county veteran service officers to get their input on VA medical services available to Wisconsin veterans.

“We thought they would be an objective source of information,” she explained. Baldwin said that while the state’s facilities got some accolades and some rave reviews and the survey found that in many cases Wisconsin was doing better than other states, a few facilities in Madison and Milwaukee were lagging.

“(The survey) also said there’s room for improvement here,” said Baldwin, a conclusion that was supported by an audit of VA services.

Because federal lawmakers realize the Veterans Administration won’t be able to beef up its workforce overnight, the bill allows those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who can’t get in within an acceptable time to get services at non-VA facilities, said Baldwin.

“This is sort of an experiment,” she said.

The military system is used to triage and specialization, said Baldwin, expressing hope that veterans with mental health needs will be seen promptly.

The overall goal, she said, is that a veteran shouldn’t have to wait more than 14 days for a primary care visit or for specialized care.

She is optimistic that a focus on recruiting medical residents will result in a larger VA medical staff.

“People love serving our servicemen and women,” said Baldwin, noting that as well as personal satisfaction, the VA provides some work conditions that are more favorable than those in private practice.

She believes that once a resident receives extensive training in a VA facility, he or she will decide to choose that career path.

Baldwin compared it to recruiting physicians for rural clinics, noting that if a doctor does his residency in a small community, he’s likely to stay in a rural area.

Bring Jobs Home

Baldwin also recently sponsored the Bring Jobs Home Act, legislation that she says would close corporate tax loopholes and help bring American jobs back to Wisconsin.

“Under existing law, businesses can deduct the cost of moving personnel and other business components to other countries when filing their taxes,” said Baldwin. “The Bring Jobs Home Act would close this tax loophole and provide a tax credit for companies that move jobs and business activities from another country back to America.”

She said the intent of the proposal is to eliminate tax code incentives to move good-paying jobs offshore and tax write-offs for having American workers train their counterparts in other countries.

There isn’t a parallel tax incentive for companies that bring jobs back to this country, said Baldwin, adding that the bill would “get rid of the reverse incentive.”

The bill did not pass the Senate.

“We basically hit an obstacle,” said Baldwin, explaining that the roadblock involves procedure rather than the substance of the bill with many lawmakers saying they want comprehensive tax reform rather than piecemeal fixes.

She said the bill was debated at length in the Senate and hopes it will be brought up again.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

(715) 426-1049