Two Wisconsin House Democrats want the president to form a commission to investigate health care service delays by the Veterans Administration. Ron Kind of La Crosse and Mark Pocan of Madison are among 14 House members calling for a probe into reports of long waits and manipulated data, among other things. Kind said the government failed to prepare for a large increase in veterans needing both mental and physical care -- two-million alone from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Kind says the veterans he has spoken with are generally happy with the care they get from the V-A -- but they do want it faster. An audit released this week shows that 525 veterans had to wait three months or longer to get initial appointments at Wisconsin's V-A hospitals -- and the longest waits are generally for specialists. Meanwhile, Wisconsin Senate Republican Ron Johnson says he'll keep working to fix what he calls a broken system. Democrats have slammed Johnson for being one of just three senators to reject a 35-billion dollar emergency spending hike this for veterans' care. Johnson said the package was too hastily put together, with a lack of fiscal checks-and-balances.
An 11-year-old suburban Milwaukee girl has become the five-thousandth youngster to get a wish granted by Wisconsin's Make-a-Wish Foundation. Hailee Hedstrom of Greendale and seven friends were taken in a stretch limo yesterday from school to Hailee's house -- where a purple backyard clubhouse was unveiled. The eight-by-eight-foot structure was complete with bunk beds, flower boxes, a porch -- everything needed for a sleep-over she plans to have soon. Hailee said she expected something awesome, but the outcome was even better. Wisconsin's Make-a-Wish Foundation turned 30 last year. It grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Over the years, about half the youngsters achieved their dreams of going to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Others have gone on shopping sprees and met celebrities. The Packers have always been in great demand over the years -- especially quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre.
State officials have approved an air emission permit that will let a pipeline carry three times the amount of crude oil that it does now across Wisconsin. Yesterday's approval by the D-N-R paves the way for Enbridge Energy to boost the flow of its current line to one-point-two million barrels of oil per day from Superior to the Chicago area. Environmental groups condemned the permit approval, saying the D-N-R should have done a complete analysis of the line to determine the possibility of oil spills. The D-N-R examined that risk at the Enbridge terminal in Superior -- but officials said they did not have to re-check the rest of the line, because they already did that several years ago when it was first put in. Environmental groups said the D-N-R should have considered Enbridge Energy's past record of spills -- but in this case, officials said the law would not have allowed it. Elizabeth Ward of the Sierra Club said the state ignored thousands of comments favoring a full environmental impact statement on the increased oil flow, even though the pipeline itself is not expanding. D-N-R air regulator Kristin Hart said her agency read all the comments, and decided there was no need for a full review. The agency received 200 letters and 34-hundred e-mails on the project.
In the midst of a tough re-election battle, Governor Scott Walker is shying away from the hot-button issue of gay marriage. During a news conference in Oak Creek yesterday, the Republican Walker said it doesn't matter what he thinks about the subject anymore -- even though he staunchly opposed same-sex unions a number of times in the past. Walker did say he supports Attorney General J-B Van Hollen's efforts to uphold the 2006 state constitutional ban on gay marriage, after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb struck it down a week ago. The governor voted for that ban, and has strongly supported it in the past. Walker did not say whether he agrees with Van Hollen's reminder to county clerks yesterday, that they could be prosecuted for issuing same-sex marriage licenses in the aftermath of Judge Crabb's ruling. The judge did not tell counties what to do in the wake of her decision -- and she's expected to take up that matter at a hearing this afternoon. Walker said the attorney general is right to try and preserve the gay marriage ban, after 59-percent of Wisconsinites voted for it eight years ago. The political winds have shifted since then, however. A recent Marquette poll showed that 55 percent of registered voters would allow same-sex marriages while 37-percent oppose them.
A stunt plane did not have any mechanical problems just before it crashed at the Stevens Point Air Show, killing its pilot. The National Transportation Safety Board has issued a preliminary report about the June first crash. Forty-seven year old William Cowden of Menomonie died while performing maneuvers with his Yakovlev YAK-55-M aircraft. Investigators said the plane rotated more than three times before it flew straight down and formed a two-and-a-half foot crater in the ground. Damage to the three propeller blades indicated that the engine was running at the time. The N-T-S-B did not say what caused the crash. A final ruling is expected to be months away. Investigators still plan to review more data and video -- including a hand-held G-P-S and a Go-Pro video camera that were operational during the flight. Cowden spent two dozen years as a military and commercal pilot. He was buried with full military honors last week at a veterans' cemetery near Spooner.
An international research team led by a U-W Madison scientist has created a pair of significant viruses in the lab, as part of its research into a possible Asian bird flu pandemic. An article about Yoshihiro Kawaoka's work was published this week in the Cell Host and Microbe journal. He said it indicates that there are natural gene pools which have the potential to cause a severe bird flu pandemic in the future. According to the article, a life-threatening virus was created in a Madison lab that's nearly identical to the 1918 Spanish flu virus that killed 50-million people throughout the world. In general, the viruses were more deadly in ferrets and mice than the prevailing bird flu virus that has popped up overseas in recent years -- and it was not as deadly in those creatures as the Spanish flu virus from almost a century ago. The research has been highly controversial, amid concerns about research accidents -- or the chance that terrorists could get hold of the lab viruses.
Alison Wedig of Darlington is the new president of the Wisconsin F-F-A. She was installed yesterday, as the agricultural education group wrapped up its 85th state convention in Madison. Also, the Waupaca F-F-A was again named Wisconsin's top overall chapter, after receiving the same honor a year ago. Wedig goes to U-W Madison, majoring in ag business management. She was the state F-F-A's vice president during the past year. Wedig will head a leadership team that includes Ethan Dado of Amery, Maggie Larson of Osseo-Fairchild, Matt Kortbein of Tomah, Danielle Jentz of Platteville, Kaitlyn Owens of Wisconsin Heights, Sally Albers of Sauk-Prairie, Leeah Luepke of Spencer, Hallie Kopczynski of Oconto Falls, Kelly Wilfert of Mishicot, and Kati Kindshuh of Lomira.
The tree-killing emerald ash borer is getting closer to Wisconsin's Northwoods, and officials of the state's only national forest are concerned. The green beetle is commonly spread through firewood -- and U-S Forest Service properties are not as restrictive about firewood usage as the D-N-R state campgrounds. The Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest covers much of the northern quarter of the Badger State. Spokeswoman Hilary Markin says the federal rules allow firewood to be brought in from 25-miles away -- and campers can bring wood from home as long as they can prove it was from a certified dealer. Also, she says the national forest does not sell its own firewood like the state parks do. In recent months, the D-N-R has tightened its restrictions to allow firewood from only 10 miles of state parks. Markin says the Forest Service has not discovered the emerald ash borer at the Chequamegon-Nicolet site. The beetle has killed millions of ash trees in the eastern U-S and Canada, and it's now in 22 Wisconsin counties. Door County was added to that list this week.