'Outsider' vet with GOP ties takes command at VA in Wis.

By STEVEN VERBURG | The Wisconsin State Journal (Tribune News Agency) | Published: February 18, 2017

Leaders of state veterans groups say they like Daniel Zimmerman, the new Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs chief, even though they had never heard of him until a short time before Gov. Scott Walker placed him in charge of the agency.

Walker and other Republican politicians had more opportunities to become acquainted with the retired Army officer because of work he is doing with state and national GOP organizations as leader of an effort to build a National Republican Party History Museum in his hometown of Ripon.

In his resume, Zimmerman also says he “fostered effective liaison with fellow board members who are current and past state legislators, state supreme court justices, and other influential state and national leaders” as deputy chairman of Ripon College’s Center for Politics and People, a political science forum.

Walker’s office didn’t respond when asked how Zimmerman came to the governor’s attention. The retired Army officer wasn’t on a list of applicants veterans groups were asked to review in December.

Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen has known Zimmerman for several years because they live in Ripon, but he said Zimmerman applied for the job independent of him. Olsen said he found out Zimmerman was a candidate when the governor’s office called a few weeks before the Feb. 2 announcement.

“They wanted somebody from the outside,” Olsen said. “In fact, I said that was imperative, that we get some new blood, fresh from the outside, I won’t say to clean house, but to take a look and assess.”

Zimmerman is the second veterans affairs secretary to be appointed by Walker since the Legislature and the governor took hiring and firing authority away from a semi-autonomous citizens board in 2011.

He succeeds John Scocos, who resigned in January after months of controversy over reports of inadequate care for residents of the King veterans nursing home.

Scocos came into the Department of Veterans Affairs job with GOP connections, too. Republicans appointed him to a half-dozen positions going back to the 1990s. The last two WDVA secretaries — Scocos and Ken Black — both worked in the department before running the agency.

Advocates for veterans said having someone like Zimmerman coming from the outside could be a good thing for the department, which provides funding to several veterans organizations.

©2017 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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