Congressmen representing the 1st Congressional District have always been called on to help veterans navigate the federal bureaucracy.
But Walworth County resident Ryan Vishaway is the first person hired to serve the district through Congress’ Wounded Warrior Fellowship program.
Rep. Bryan Steil, R-1st District, introduced Vishaway at a news conference at the Janesville Police Department on Friday.
The congressional Wounded Warrior Program—not to be confused with the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project—began in 2008. It pays the salary of an employee to handle veterans affairs in Congress members’ offices.
Vishaway gave a short statement and answered a few questions.
He would not say where he lives in Walworth County. He said he moved there a few months ago from Illinois.
“Wisconsin, it’s always seemed like home for me, you know, hunting, fishing,” he said when asked why he moved.
He is married with one son and twins on the way.
Veterans can struggle to adapt to civilian life, with some becoming homeless, suffering from post-traumatic stress or brain injury, or having problems accessing the Veterans Administration medical care, said Janesville City Manager Mark Freitag, a 25-year Army veteran who introduced Steil.
“So this is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue, and I applaud Congressman Steil for recognizing these challenges,” Freitag said.
Steil said he is committed to getting veterans their benefits, and he said he is particularly interested in the problem of veteran suicide.
Federal statistics indicate about 6,000 veteran suicides per year from 2008 to 2016, or about 30 per 100,000 people, with the rate for younger veterans an increasing concern.
“Ryan’s going to be my boots on the ground, soliciting ideas and suggestions from veterans in our community as to how we can tackle that very serious problem,” Steil said.
Vishaway was one of several “very high-quality” veterans who applied for the position after Steil’s office announced it about a month ago, Steil said.
Vishaway was born at Aviano Air Base in Italy, where his mother was a crew chief. His mother served in the Air Force for 20 years.
Vishaway said he was an infantryman with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from 2014 to 2017 and did not serve overseas.
He has studied business administration, and he completed a fellowship training program in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve seen the impact of a lack of resources and understanding of PTSD and other mental-health battles within the veteran community. This happens far too often and must be addressed,” Vishaway said.
Vishaway’s title in Steil’s office is director of veterans and military affairs.
Wounded Warrior fellows earn $39,000 to $52,000 per year, according to the USAJobs website.
The fellowship lasts two years, and fellows can gain full-time employment afterward, but that’s not guaranteed, according to the program website.
Applicants must be honorably discharged, released from active duty within the last five years and must also have a 20% or more service-connected disability rating or a Purple Heart medal.
Steil’s office said in an email that Vishaway was honorably discharged after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Vishaway brings Steil’s in-district staff to nine. Another eight people work for Steil in Washington, D.C.