March 10, 2008 – According to Wisconsin voters, the war in Iraq is not the top issue on their minds.
However, as the nation approaches the five-year anniversary of the war on March 19, Wisconsin officials and political observers have said it continues to affect the state, even if often indirectly.
Public policy polling showed the war in Iraq came second to the economy in priority for both Wisconsin Democrats and Republicans.
UW-Madison political science professor Kenneth Mayer said this breakdown is not unique to Wisconsin.
“I don’t think the war plays out in Wisconsin any differently than most other states. In California, for example, 46 percent of Democrats identified the economy as the most important issue, with 32 percent saying Iraq; in New York, 46 percent said the economy, 30 percent said Iraq,” Meyer said.
On Feb. 19, the day of the Wisconsin primary, two state National Guard units in the Tomahawk and Rhinelander areas received notice of a possible deployment to Iraq.
National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Tim Donovan said this early notification affects approximately 200 soldiers. For a large number of these soldiers, this will not be their first moblization.
Donovan said a call to active duty is likely for the units, but they might not know if it will occur up to a year from now.
Soldiers deployed to Iraq, according to Donovan, have their personal and professional lives interrupted. This can lead to disruption the daily lives of those around soldiers in civilian life at jobs or colleges, he said.
“They leave voids in their communities and in the state,” Donovan said. The war has also affected Wisconsin’s economy, costing state taxpayers $46 billion by 2017, according to a January report from the U.S. Senate Joint Economic Committee.
The report said this amount is unlikely to change even if the size of the military in Iraq is significantly reduced. The war will cost $36,000 per Wisconsin household, according to the report.
UW-Madison history professor Jeremi Suri said the war is an economic issue for Wisconsin because war expenses divert money from domestic uses.
Suri said a war produces casualties that not only affect individual families, but also increasingly harm the economy as the continues. He said the Iraq War affected the state more than the Gulf War because the current conflict has lasted much longer.
Since 2003, 86 Wisconsinites have died in Iraq. There are 22,500 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan in the state, according to Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Veteran’s Affairs John Scocos.
Scocos, who was previously deployed to Iraq, said while most state agencies have been diminishing due to economic troubles, the WDVA has expanded and has been establishing new outreach services to cope with growing demand.
“We’re the most progressive state in the nation for doing what’s right for veterans. Our legislature and governor have been great in doing that, and University Systems President [Kevin] Reilly has been hand-in-hand working on issues of veterans,” Scocos said.
While the department’s budget has increased from last year, Scocos stressed more must be done at the federal level to address the issue of outreach to returning veterans.
“We haven’t done a good job across the nation. We need to do more to reach out to veterans. The federal government needs to give us more federal dollars so that we can have more outreach,” Scocos said.
According to Scocos, veterans not reached within the first year of their return are rarely in contact with the department or made aware of the services available.
Scocos said he is re-examining how the WDVA is organized to find ways the department can achieve further outreach with very limited funding.
“We do not want to have what happened to the Vietnam generation of veterans happen to this generation,” Scocos said. He said demand for services has increased based on the changing needs of veterans applying to modern higher education and new careers.