Evers seeks to make VORP permanent for vets

Over 500 veterans already served by mental health program

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary-designee Mary Kolar announced recently that in less than one year, the department has enrolled more than 500 veterans in the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program, or VORP.

The program provides case management and support, as well as connects veterans to community services, with a special focus on mental health and substance abuse treatment and recovery.

Gov. Tony Evers’ 2019-2021 budget proposal seeks to make the VORP, which was funded by the Legislature as a project in April, a permanent program.

“The work that the VORP does in this state fills a gap in terms of case management for veterans with mental health, substance abuse and other treatment needs,” Kolar said.

Since April, in addition to the services provided by the Wisconsin VA, more than 550 veterans have been served by over 1,200 community connections, wrap-around services provided by community partners such as housing, food, furniture, child care, legal assistance, education, training and employment. All who have served in any component of the U.S. Armed Forces including those who have previously served and continue to serve in the National Guard and Reserve are eligible for services under VORP.

“This is a unique program in that our VORP coordinators throughout the state don’t wait for veterans to come to them,” Kolar added. “Rather, our coordinators know their communities well and know where to find needy veterans, sometimes even under bridges, in railroad yards, along rivers and many other locations. Once our coordinators have made contact with a veteran, they are able to utilize our program resources, while also pulling in other community resources we may not have, to assist that veteran.”

Evers has proposed permanent continuation of the VORP, providing the Wisconsin VA with eight permanent Regional Veterans Outreach and Recovery Coordinator positions, supported by a clinical coordinator to serve all 72 counties in Wisconsin. The proposal includes $1.5 million to pay for program costs such as private mental health or substance abuse treatment and the transportation to those appointments.

The VORP began as a pilot project in 2014 that focused on assisting homeless veterans with substance abuse problems in rural areas. At the conclusion of the federal grant period, given the program’s success, the department sought to expand the program to all of Wisconsin, ultimately receiving temporary funding from the Legislature in April.