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‘Just on hold': UW-Whitewater student sees gaps in benefits for military spouses


Connie Perschke remembers her husband’s long days on a military base in Germany.

She would drive him to and from the base. Some days, she would drop him off at 4 a.m. and pick him up at 8 or 9 p.m.

The couple are stateside now, albeit in different states. While her husband is on a U.S. Army base in Missouri, Perschke is at UW-Whitewater trying to get her bachelor’s degree in social work.

But she said paying for school herself is challenging. While she recently had loans approved, she also said she needed to replace the brakes on her car—another cost—because she commutes to campus from Williams Bay.

Richard Harris, coordinator of veterans and military services at UW-W, said some benefits are available to spouses of veterans as opposed to those of active duty members. Some benefits require the military member to be at least 30 percent disabled.

Perschke’s husband does not meet those criteria, so for now she’s out of luck.

Perschke and Harris are pointing to gaps in the system that make military spouses put their lives on hold—something Perschke said could adversely affect the military members, too.

‘Setting me back’

The federal GI Bill allows family members of veterans to cover some school costs. The Wisconsin GI Bill, which is separate from its federal counterpart, covers for dependents of eligible veterans full tuition for up to eight semesters or 128 credits at a UW System or Wisconsin Technical College System school.

Harris said Perschke could be eligible for benefits under the federal GI Bill to pursue her bachelor’s degree only after her husband completes six years of service.

Some support Perschke found would also only help with an associate’s degree, “which really in today’s society doesn’t get you very far in many work places, in many professions,” she said.

“So I think that was a really big shock,” Perschke said. “That’s kind of still setting me back.”

A 2017 survey of active duty spouses found 43 percent of respondents were not enrolled in school or training but would like to be. Of those, 71 percent listed the costs of education as why they were not enrolled.

Perschke requested her husband’s name not be included in this story because they were unsure how it could affect his future career.

Before Germany, Perschke said she was working at Menards and at a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter. She was self-sufficient—paying bills and putting herself through school at UW-Eau Claire.

Perschke, 26, said she especially felt like her life was on hold in Germany. Due to the limited amount of time she was there, Perschke said she was “pretty much not hirable.”

“So yeah definitely that was a year and a half on my life where I was kind of just on hold,” she said.

So she couldn’t work, and school did not work out for her either.

To her face, she said she was called a “Dependopotamus,” a popular term in the military.

Harris, an Army veteran, said the military’s culture toward spouses can lead them to “feel isolated and demoralized at times.”

“They are not seen in the same important light as the member in uniform,” he said.

Perschke has been told it’s her “responsibility to keep the household at bay.” If there is a deployment, she has to make sure her husband is mentally prepared. She has been told if there’s something going wrong at home, she just can’t tell him.

“The wives are very much supposed to be the ones to make sure that the house is taken care of,” she said. “Dinner is made. Laundry is done. Those kind of ’50s, ‘what a woman should be’ type of ideals.”

To be clear, Perschke does not believe spouses should be priorities over everything. She does think, however, that not helping spouses complete their education or find jobs can “hinder” the goal to make sure a soldier is focused on their mission.


So, what should be done about this?

Perschke said she would like to see more scholarships to pay for education beyond an associate’s degree. She also wants insurance coverage for marriage counseling—an absence that, as a social worker, she sees as a “huge disadvantage to people in the military.”

Harris agrees on getting more scholarships. He also said he hopes legislators see Perschke’s story and enact changes through the law.

Harris also wants better tracking. Most universities are able to track this population by their use of federal or state benefits. But perhaps a box to check during the admissions process could let Harris or someone in his position know a student is an active duty member or a spouse of one.

If a student veteran hadn’t been in class with Perschke, brought her to the veteran’s lounge and told her she belonged, Harris would not have seen these gaps in the system or known Perschke.

“I would not know she existed,” he said.

Obituaries and death notices for March 25, 2019

Deanna Guerrero

James A. Knull

Larry E. Olson

Analysis: A cloud lifts over Trump, but at a cost


The cloud that has hung over President Donald Trump since the day he walked into the White House has been lifted.

Yes, special counsel Robert Mueller left open the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. Yes, separate federal probes still put Trump and his associates in legal jeopardy. And yes, Democrats will spend the coming months pushing for more details from Mueller, all while launching new probes into Trump’s administration and businesses.

But at its core, Mueller’s investigation gave the president what he wanted: public affirmation that he and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia to win the 2016 election. After spending months tweeting “No collusion,” Trump had been proven right.

The findings, summarized Sunday by the Justice Department, are sure to embolden Trump as he plunges into his re-election campaign, armed now with new fodder to claim the investigation was little more than a politically motivated effort to undermine his presidency.

“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” Trump said. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”

Mueller’s investigation stretched on for nearly two years, enveloping Trump’s presidency in a cloud of uncertainty and sending him into frequent fits of rage. The scope of the probe was sweeping: Mueller issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtained nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed 500 witnesses, including some of the president’s closest advisers.

And Trump’s ultimate vindication on the question of collusion with Russia came at a steep cost.

The investigation took down his campaign chairman, his White House national security adviser and his longtime lawyer. It revealed the extent of Moscow’s desire to swing the 2016 contest toward Trump, as well as Trump’s pursuit of business deals in Russia deep into the campaign. And the Justice Department didn’t explain why so many Trump associates lied throughout the investigation.

But in the end, Mueller concluded that those lies were not an effort to obscure a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to work with Russia. There was smoke, and plenty of it—including an eyebrow-raising meeting between Trump’s son and a Russian lawyer—but ultimately, no fire.

“Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”

Democrats quickly sought to puncture Trump and fellow Republicans’ jubilation, vowing to subpoena Mueller’s full report, which remains a secret. After spending years questioning Trump’s ties to Moscow, the Democrats’ focus is shifting to the question Mueller pointedly left unanswered: whether Trump obstructed the investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey and dictating a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

“The fact that special counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

The fight for those documents will be lengthy and contentious, particularly against the backdrop of the 2020 presidential election.

It will involve complex debates over the rules that govern special counsel investigations, which put a member of Trump’s Cabinet in charge of summarizing Mueller’s findings for the public, and a president’s right to keep his private discussions out of the public eye.

Previewing the case Democrats will make to get more details about Trump’s actions, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., declared: “Executive privilege cannot be used to shield or hide wrongdoing.”

For Trump and his associates, the argument will be far simpler: Democrats already tried to go after the president once and failed.

“Just as important a victory as this is for President Trump, this is a crushing defeat for Democrats and members of the media who have pushed the collusion delusion myth for the past two years. That officially ends today,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign official.

Trump’s legal troubles are far from over. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are pursuing at least two criminal inquiries involving the president or people in his orbit, one involving his inaugural committee and another focused on the hush-money scandal that led his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last year to campaign finance violations.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is also looking into whether Trump exaggerated his wealth when seeking loans for real estate projects and a failed bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

But in the hours after Mueller’s findings were released, those investigations appeared to be a world away for Trump. As he walked into the White House Sunday night, he pumped his fist to a group of supporters and declared, “America is the greatest place on earth, the greatest place on earth.”

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Janesville sees two emerging plans to house the homeless


The future of affordable housing in Janesville could include a few small, single-family homes of about 500 square feet. Or maybe a few so-called “tiny homes” that would be less than half that size.

It’s not clear which plan might start to gel first, but city housing officials and planners in the coming weeks could look at the two emerging projects—each aiming to serve as a stepping stone for people trying to climb out of homelessness.

Beloit-based nonprofit social service agency Community Action announced last week that it could partner with the city of Janesville’s Neighborhood and Community Services division on a pilot project to build a cluster of four single-story homes 400 to 500 square feet in size.

Community Action’s Development and Planning Director Marc Perry said his agency would offer the small houses to clients as low-income family housing under “Rapid Rehousing”—a program Community Action runs that provides transitional housing and case management to clients who are homeless or teetering on homelessness but trying to rebuild their lives.

At any given time, Perry said, Rock County has a homeless population between 350 and 400 people, a growing number of those who are rent burdened or at risk of becoming homeless, in large part because of a worsening shortage of local, affordable housing.

“I think it’s about the opportunity with a smaller house to build more units in a given space. And so that allows us to provide more housing for individuals. Really, the biggest push is that that the smaller house allows us to provide a nice, habitable space that’s in good condition for a family,” Perry said.

Perry said the project might develop a savings program that residents of the small homes could apply toward permanent homeownership, although the program wouldn’t bind the residents to continuing to live in the small homes.

“The most important piece is that we’d see those families become stable in their housing, then our case-management staff can start working with them to address some of the barriers and issues that led them to housing crisis in the first place,” Perry said.

Community Action would own the homes, which would be built on slab foundations and likely be sited on a single, city-owned lot, Perry said.

Community Action and the city haven’t hashed out costs, a location or detailed designs for the homes, Perry said, but he said the proposal would be a continuation of housing programs Community Action has run and managed for years.

What would be different, he said, is the homes would be significantly smaller than transitional housing his agency has built or rehabbed in Rock County in the past.

That’s similar to a separate, private proposal by local craftsman Rich Snyder to build a cluster of four, 200-square-foot “tiny homes” on a residential lot on South Franklin Street in Janesville’s Fourth Ward neighborhood.

Snyder’s proposed tiny homes, and the small homes Community Action is now proposing, would be significantly smaller than the 800-square-foot minimum standard the city has set for new construction homes. That means both proposals would require special planning, review and approval.

Snyder envisions the tiny homes being managed as transitional housing for people who are recovering from homelessness. He said a Janesville nonprofit that serves the homeless population is considering whether it would manage the tiny home village.

Snyder said he already has raised $5,000 in private fundraising to build a model tiny home he’d used to tout his project, and he’s hired Janesville architect Angus-Young Associates to design the homes and village. Under Snyder’s plans, the homes would be built on slabs and would be linked to city services. An excavator has offered to donate labor and materials for site work and utility lines.

City of Janesville Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said she had reached out to Community Action months ago over the idea of alternative, affordable housing after the city and local nonprofit agencies formed a special task force on homelessness and housing.

Bedessem called Community Action’s small homes proposal “very, very preliminary,” although she told Community Development Authority officials last week that a team of city planners and housing authorities already have been hashing out zoning and planning concerns on the proposal.

And, Bedessem said, Community Action’s plan could be eligible for part of a $625,000 pot of state-granted, federal housing program funding that the city’s housing authority has earmarked for affordable housing projects, Bedessem said.

Snyder has met with city housing authorities, but he said he has not sought city funding.

Bedessem said city staff hasn’t spent much time examining the viability of affordable housing smaller than 500 square feet—in part because she said Snyder’s proposal is the only “tiny homes” project being talked about.

Snyder hasn’t submitted formal plans to the city or given a clear indication of who might manage the tiny home village once it became occupied, Bedessem said.

Community Action last week gave the city’s Community Development Authority a back-of-the-envelope explanation of the small homes proposal.

Bedessem said the Community Action’s proposal likely would be submitted to the city’s plan commission as a planned-unit development—a type of planning strategy used to review developments that don’t strictly conform to existing local land-use rules. The homes likely would be built on a lot or lots the city earlier obtained through its neighborhood stabilization program, with preference to lots it owns near bus stops.

The city and Community Action would likely hold neighborhood meetings to learn whether nearby residents think a cluster of small homes would fit a neighborhood’s “character,” Bedessem said.

Bedessem said some of older neighborhoods have existing homes about 600 to 650 square feet that were built years before the city established minimum-size standards for homes.

An owner interested in Snyder’s tiny homes proposal is willing to donate to Snyder a residential lot on South Franklin Street just west of the Harris Ace Hardware store as the location for the tiny homes, Snyder said.

He said he plans to meet Tuesday with the Fourth Ward Neighborhood Action Team, a neighborhood advocacy group, to discuss his proposal.

This story has been altered from an earlier version to reflect Community Action official Marc Perry's job title. Perry is the nonprofit agency's Director of Development and Planning.