December 31, 2018 @ 12:00am

Wisconsin County Veteran Service Officers are a Critical Asset to KWW/CF/Heat and Housing for Heroes

Organization’s relationship continues to grow

The Heat for Heroes van, generously donated and maintained by Schmidt Auto Inc., travels around the state of WI to raise awareness and funds for Veterans facing energy-related emergencies.

The impact KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes has on veterans and their families wouldn’t be possible without its relationship with those who serve veterans throughout the state. It’s those boots on the ground who hear firsthand from the veterans and families who are struggling that allows KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes to lend a hand.

Among those sources, the most consistent since the organization’s founding has been Wisconsin County Veteran Service Officers stationed in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and 11 tribes. The CVSOs act as a resource and advocate for veterans and the families living in their respective county. They offer advice and refer veterans to various places to access benefits, resources and opportunities.

“CVSOs are greatly involved in working with organizations like ours to make sure veterans and their families have heat, power, or avert homelessness,” KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes Executive Director Tim Bruer said. “They also get veterans off the streets and work to identify those veterans hit hardest by their escalating cost of energy. Sadly, many of these veterans that we’ve worked together with are without heat or power, a basic necessity that’s become an unaffordable luxury. But county VSOs are one of the major response teams and are frontline problem solvers for veterans who are struggling throughout the state.” With dozens of veteran-related causes across the state, the list is long for Ali Nelson, the CVSO in Kenosha County. But at the top is KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes, he said, adding that he can always count on the nonprofit to deliver in times of need.

“It’s a terrific organization that goes out of its way to help veterans in crisis,” Nelson said of KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes. “I can count on Heat for Heroes as one of the five-star organizations that help veterans who may be struggling financially. It could be utility problems or vets facing homelessness with no place else to turn. With all the work I’ve done with those guys (Heat for Heroes), there’s been a positive outcome whenever I refer someone.”

Nelson proudly served in the U.S. Navy for 28 1/2 years. Upon his transition back into civilian life, he worked an office job but struggled to find his calling. When the opportunity to give back to veterans and serve as a wealth of information for them became available, he jumped at the chance. He’s been involved with the CVSO Association of Wisconsin since 2011 and has worked in collaboration with KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes ever since, he said.

“The gratification is beyond just getting a paycheck every two weeks,” Nelson said. “I’d do it for free because of the joy I get from helping these veterans who need assistance. It’s hard to explain how it feels to wake up every day and serve veterans.”

Nelson said he refers many in-need veterans to KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes every month because he knows they will constantly come through. He’s become so sure of it, that he asks representatives from the organization to come to the annual CVSO conference to ensure all others are aware of KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes and its offerings.

“I could not do my job without them,” Nelson said. “They really help me, and I need their assistance to help other veterans.” Much of the same applies to Adam Flood, the CVSO of La Crosse County. He said that on average, he refers an in-need veteran and his or her family to KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes every other month.

“In La Crosse County, we have a commission that’s able to assist veterans to prevent energy cut off or eviction,” Flood said. “In some cases, the veterans’ bill due is too substantial for the commission to take on by itself. But, through partnership with Heat for Heroes, we have been able to work together to ensure veterans are taken care of.”

Recently, a veteran came forward to Flood with an eviction and utility disconnect notice with a combined cost of about $3,000, a number that La Crosse County was unable to help with alone. Flood contacted KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes, and the organization worked to keep the veteran in their home with their heat on within just several days.

“The ability to ensure that a veteran finds stability during times of problems is instrumental in preventing so many additional problems for veterans,” Flood said. “It’s only through collaboration that these moments are possible. Most of the time, one agency cannot bear the problem on its own.”

Bruer said KWWCF/Heat and Housing for Heroes has a “12-24 hour rule” where service comes as soon as humanly possible. “With their involvement and participation, we’re able to expedite emergency assistance,” he said. “Those county VSOs have really stepped up to the plate and have been critical to our success.

“Over time, emergency situations have been avoided for thousands of veterans because of that relationship … we’ve taken what was originally a fragmented network and we’ve been able to seamlessly provide a comprehensive safety net that can respond in less than 24 hours.”

Many Veterans attend community events, such as the group shown below at an event in Marathon County, to learn more about the Heat for Heroes program which provides need based energy assistance grants to help keep the HEAT and POWER on for those most vulnerable.

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