Department of Veterans Affairs: Partners with the Simmy Foundation and the Wisconsin Convenience Industry to Increase Awareness of Veterans’ Mental Health Services

STEVENS POINT — Secretary Mary Kolar of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that the state agency will work with the Simmy Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on veterans’ mental health, and Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (WPMCA) to increase awareness and enrollment of veterans in the Department’s Veterans Awareness and Recovery Program (VORP).

“I am extremely proud of the efficient and meaningful work done by the VORP staff,” said Secretary Kolar. “Every day they meet Wisconsin veterans where they are and connect them to vital services. I am so grateful to the Simmy Foundation and the WPMCA for their partnership in delivering this amazing program. Greater visibility on VORP could help many more veterans and possibly save lives.

“The WPMCA is proud to join this private/public partnership to help Wisconsin veterans across the state,” said Matthew Hauser, WPMCA President and CEO. “Our industry operates more than 3,000 convenience stores across the state where people come to buy fuel, buy food, and connect with their neighbors. Because of the role we play as a community hub, especially in rural areas, we can help educate veterans and their families and friends about the VORP program.

Anthony Perrine, owner of Lou Perrine’s Gas and Groceries in Kenosha, said, “As a field operator, it makes me proud to know that I can serve those who serve our country and sacrifice more than ever. None of us would be in business without our veterans.

“The Simmy Foundation seeks to promote holistic, non-pharmaceutical mental health support for veterans,” said Andrew Hysell, the Foundation’s Outreach Director. “The Simmy Foundation was started by Marvin and Linda Simcakoski, the parents of Jason Simcakoski, a Wisconsin veteran who died of a preventable opioid overdose. While the Simcakoski family advocated for the successful passage of federal legislation in 2016 that reduced VA-prescribed opioids, the fact remains that veterans still need support. The VORP program is a Wisconsin-specific model that has proven to be very successful.

The VORP program has regional coordinators located throughout the state. Regional VORP staff actively seek out veterans in need and constantly find ways to connect directly with new veterans who otherwise might not know help is available. The Evers administration has made veteran mental health a top priority, including a proposed budget that expands the VORP program and a final budget that includes an annual investment of $100,000 in suicide prevention and awareness efforts among the Wisconsin veteran community.

WDVA and the Simmy Foundation will provide the WPMCA and its members with training and materials to raise awareness about issues of veteran suicide, homelessness, substance abuse and other mental health issues like PTSD, as well as this convenience store managers and employees can do to inform veterans about VORP registration. Additionally, partners will be available at the WPMCA annual conference and WDVA and the Simmy Foundation will distribute materials at the WPMCA trade show.

The partnership is managed by the Simmy Foundation.