Meeting Minutes for April 6, 2011

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UVLC Minutes
Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Call to Order - 9:30 a.m.

Invocation

Pledge of Allegiance

Greetings - Recognition of Visitors and Guests

Announcements - Ralph Donais mentioned it is important to keep track of the numerous veterans bills that are moving through the House and Senate. The omnibus tax bill has been passed in the Senate, which includes several veteran-related bills. From what Ralph understands, all of the veterans bills have been passed on. When the joint House and Senate committees meet, what results from that will end up on the Governor's desk.

Jerry Kyser mentioned an Honor Flight will be held on April 30 at Terminal 2, A Baggage, and encouraged all to go and greet these veterans. St. Cloud, Rochester and Southwest Minnesota out of Sioux Falls will also have Honor Flights on April 30. There will also be an Honor Flight on May 14 in Duluth. Go to www.honorflight.org to see all of the upcoming Honor Flights.

1. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Antione Waller - There are 6,000 claims pending with each claim taking 107 days to process on average. On average, it is taking 14 days to develop a claim. On the pension side, there are 10,000 claims pending. St. Paul is involved in a nationwide "Rules Based" processing initiative to reduce that pending pension backlog. This will allow about 80 percent of the backlog to be processed on an automatic basis by going through a specific list of questions. Mr. Waller talked about Ebenefits (www.ebenefits.va.gov) where veterans can go, once registered, to review their claims status, VA benefits payment history, as well as getting military records such as their DD214. As of March 1, 2013 all benefits will be direct deposit, no more paper checks. This will save the government over $500 million annually. Visit www.usdirectexpress.com for more information. The St. Paul VARO, because of their exceptional level of quality and performance, has taken on some of the Agent Orange claims from Texas. In case of a government shutdown, essential personnel will be on station to process claims. A considerable amount of staffing will be involved in that process.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy - The status of the budget for the VISN is good. All of their needs will be covered this year. There is variable growth around the network but most sites are experiencing increased growth in veteran patients with St. Cloud growing the fastest. Black Hills is the only site not growing. The fiscal '12 and '13 budget hearings have been completed in D.C. They will be tightening their belts in 2012 while ensuring care does not suffer. They've done so well with past years' budgets that they're well prepared in the areas of construction and equipment, etc., to meet the challenge. They did well as a network with their Central Office 1st quarter performance review. They do need to work in the areas of ischemic heart disease and womens' health disparity. Ms. Murphy was pleased to report the VISN has gone up nicely in the "Willingness to Recommend" survey wherein veterans have reported an increased willingness to recommend the VA to others. She discussed her handout regarding military sexual assault and trauma. This is "Sexual Assault Awareness Month." There is a 1-800 number and website on the handout, but you are encouraged to send any victims of this you may know of to the VISN where they have resources to help more one-on-one. Also, any veteran or family member may use the Veterans Crisis Line that's mentioned on the handout, they need not be enrolled.

Minneapolis VA Medical Center - Mike Rosencrans - The St. James CBOC opened on April 1. 17 patients were seen. The Mankato clinic will open April 11. On April 30, a dedication and grand opening will be held for both St. James and Mankato with St. James at 10 a.m. and Mankato at noon. The Northwest metro, Ramsey clinic, is still on track to open in November. They will be fully functional in case of a government shutdown.

St. Cloud VA Medical Center - Cheryl Thieschafer - There are a lot of "visual changes" on the campus such as the physical therapy department will be moving into a newly-remodeled area tomorrow, the surgical center should be open soon, as well as there is a new van used for mobile audiology services. Additionally, the wind turbine is now operational. Their site did well in the OIG review of residential rehabilitation treatment programs. The annual physically-disabled turkey hunt will be coming up soon.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Not present. Jerry Kyser mentioned that the Honor Flight will be taking the Friday rifle squad, who started doing their salutes in 1979. 57,500 rifle salutes have been done.

Vets Employment & Training Services (VETS) - Tony Franz - The caseload for USERRA complaints of employer discrimination has dropped. There's only been about three in the last 1.5 months. Everything is up in the air with their budget with the possible government shutdown looming. There is a veterans career fair coming up on May 3 at Earle Brown in Brooklyn Center starting at 11 a.m. If you know of veterans looking for jobs or businesses looking to hire vets, send them their way. 60 businesses are currently signed up and the hall holds 88. Char Morgan at the Blaine Work Force Center is the coordinator for employer registration. Her number is 763-785-6461.

2. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Martin Ludden - The Senator was at the homecoming two weeks ago in St. Cloud for the 367th. The same day, they sent the 644th Regional Support Group off at Ft. Snelling. Last weekend they were in New Ulm for the departure of the Headquarters Battery 1-125 Field Artillery, as well as in Bloomington where a portion of A Company, military intelligence, headed out for Afghanistan. They will be, as a staff or with the Senator to as many of these as they can make. On Monday night the Senator received the "Above and Beyond Award" from the Minnesota Committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The Senator introduced the Support for Survivors Act, which goes along with Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April here. There were 3,158 reports of sexual assault in the military in 2010; however, the Pentagon estimates that only 13 to 14 percent of total assaults are reported. As it stands now, there is no coordinated policy across the branches to preserve those records. This bill would ensure lifelong storage of all documents connected with reports of sexual assault and/or harassment across the military branches. This ensures records are available in case a future claim is filed for PTSD, in the case of serial offenders, and if one wants to pursue future legal action. Martin has accepted the position of Executive Director of the DAV Foundation so this is his last UVLC meeting in his current capacity.

Senator Al Franken - Nate Arch - Not present
7th District Representative Collin Peterson - Al Loehr - Mr. Loehr briefly mentioned the history of the UVLC. He expressed hope that both sides can come to a compromise and avoid a government shutdown. Gratitude was expressed to those veterans who have been on The Hill in D.C., as well as to those whom have visited their representatives here in Minnesota. Jerry Kyser mentioned House File 240, which is sponsored by Representative Filner from California. Currently, if $1 is used out of federal money, some veteran-owned businesses cannot bid on Mn/Dot projects.
1st District Representative Tim Walz - Ralph Donais on behalf of Shawn Schoesser - Last Month Congressman Walz sponsored HR 865, the Veterans Employment Transition Act of 2011, amending the Internal Revenue Code definition of a recently-discharged veteran to mean: 1. Any individual who has served on active duty other than for training for more than 180 consecutive days. 2. Any individual who has been released from active duty with a service-connected disability. 3. Any member of the National Guard who has served more than 180 consecutive days on active duty full time. Additionally, the bill requires the DOD and the National Guard to inform personnel who are released from active duty of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which provides $2,400 to employers who hire recently-separated veterans and to ensure they have proper documentation.

2nd District Representative John Kline - Chaz Johnson - Not present.

3rd District Representative Eric Paulson - John Paul Yates - Congressman Paulson was honored at the SGR banquet on Monday. This month, the Congressman met in D.C. with the Civil Air Patrol and the VFW. He also signed on to a bill that will honor Jewish Chaplains who died in the line of service. This weekend, he will be attending the B Company, 1/34th Infantry deployment ceremony in Bloomington, part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

4th District Representative Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland - A handout was provided which lists the bills Congresswoman McCollum is on. HR 930 speaks to the record keeping involving PTSD and military trauma. Portions of a letter the Congresswoman signed on to to Secretary Shinseki were read regarding Senator Klobuchar's Support for Survivor's Act which Mr. Ludden referenced in his remarks above. It is suggested that the same standard that is currently applied to PTSD survivors be applied to survivors of sexual assault and trauma who have VA compensation claims for PTSD. As part of her work on the Military Construction, VA Appropriations Subcommittee, the Congresswoman is starting a number of round tables by invitation. The subcommittee is currently in "listening mode" hearing from the DOD and VA. An Academy Information Night will be held on April 25 at the Babcock VFW in Richfield. Nine people from the 4th District have received fully-qualified appointments. The Congresswoman is on HR 865 that Congressman Walz introduced.

5th District Representative Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler - There will be an Academy info night at the Richfield VFW on April 25 at 6:30. Please share this info with any interested youth. Congressman Ellison, along with General Richard Nash from the MN National Guard, will be cohosting an event at the University of St. Thomas hosted by the Center for Christian-Muslim Dialog. They will talk about the role of religion in US foreign policy. This will be held April 8 at 7:30 p.m.

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann - Nicole Severson - A handout featuring Congresswoman Bachmann's legislation was provided, including the TRICARE legislation and promoting service dogs for veterans. She attended the welcome home ceremony for the 367th Engineering Battalion. She was pleased to be involved in the 61st anniversary of the Royal Lao Army and SGR events. In D.C., the Congresswoman met with AmVets, National Association for Uniformed Services, American Legion, VFW and other veterans organizations. Veterans are encouraged to contact Ms. Bachmann's offices with any veteran-related legislative ideas.

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack - Callie Wahl - On Monday their Duluth office opened in the Federal Building at 515 West First Street, Suite 235. Tim Olson has been hired to take over that office's operations. His hours are M to Th 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with Fridays utilized as their mobile office. The phone number is: 218-740-7803. This weekend the Congressman will be home and at the I-94 Calvary in Duluth.

3. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veterans Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito - Barb O'Reilly was introduced. She is a Lieutenant Colonel retired. She will be coming on staff and dealing specifically with womens' issues. This is an effort to deal with "contemporary issues," not creating a special population. The Commissioner was very busy the last month. Some highlights: He was at the Silver Bay Veterans Home. He also met with a group called Resources Minnesota out of South Minneapolis. They are dedicated to providing just-in-time job-skills training to veterans. He also met with the Indian Affairs Council as well as the Aging Services, which is a nonprofit that does all the practitioner training in Minnesota for nursing home providers. He was also in Bemidji, one of 17 communities that have been determined to be suitable sites for a future veterans home. The DVA, as an agency, does not endorse any community, but they advised them on how best to be a competitive applicant. He commented that at the Fergus Falls Veterans Home resident veterans are taken on outings at least 200 days a year. He also attended the National Association of State Departments of Veterans Affairs. The Croation military was here in Minnesota on the 24th studying the way we do business. He also attended the Ex-POW event in St. Cloud and met several interesting veterans. He then mentioned getting together Adjutants from the various veterans organizations at an informal luncheon to discuss where they want to go with the organization. The DVA does not want to be a replacement for the UVLC or the Commanders Task Force but unify with them. "Bring Them All the Way Home:" Last year the legislature gave the funeral honors teams $100,000. They performed 4,000 funeral honor ceremonies. The last image the family sees at the gravesite is a professional presentation of colors for their loved one.

MN Veterans 2010 Legislative Info - Mike McElhiney - April 29 is the deadline for any bill that's moving through one or the other Houses. It has to have moved through appropriate committees and back to the floor to be considered. Currently they're tracking 72 bills of veterans interest. In order for a bill to move it has to have a Senate or House companion bill, so that drops the number to about 66 bills. Yesterday the tax omnibus bill passed on the Senate floor. Someone asked about HF 105, Big Marine Lake legislation bill. It may be in there, but he did not see it in his initial review. The omnibus bills which appropriate the department are moving through the House. What they're hearing at the Capitol is right now they're looking good as a department. They're getting lots of funding, have received everything they've asked for. They're one of the only departments to get an increase; however, it really means nothing because the bills will be rewritten in conference committee. They assume everything they've asked for will remain, but can't be sure at this point. The word at the Capitol is the budget is not going to be solidified until June 30. Bottom line: Remain diligent and vigilant. Mr. McElhiney reiterated HF 240, veterans'-owned small businesses set aside program, passed through the House veterans committee. 1124, euphemistically called "The Knucklehead Bill" was introduced. This bill allows for presumptive rehabilitation for a veteran who had a minor infraction prior to honorable military service. This could afford a veteran a wider range of job opportunities than may otherwise be out there. HF 836 passed through the Veterans House. This allows for Purple Heart recipients and 100 percent disabled vets to be entered into a lottery for hunting and fishing permits. HF 56, USERRA, provides a veteran further cause of action who loses their job or their job is somehow eliminated while deployed. Some things in the omnibus bill: The sunset date for the higher-education veterans program was repealed, funding was received for the seven nationally-chartered veterans organizations, an amendment exempting the VA from personnel cuts, funding for Fergus Falls and the new adult daycare in Mpls, a one-time appropriation for MACV of $100,000.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Dan Severson - Mr. Severson discussed the issue with Mn/Dot and the veteran-owned businesses. Mn/Dot has not met the reporting requirement of January 15. Additionally, athough they recently testified in committee that they are meeting their goals, they are not. They put in a 1 percent goal, yet are meeting 3/10 of 1 percent. Approximately 15 percent of veterans who come back from deployment are unemployed so this bill is very important to help keep, or get, veterans employed. Second-Career Military Pay, no requirements for the 2011 budget; 2012 a 10 percent phase-in; 2013, 20 percent; and 2014 would be a 30 percent phase-in and then capped until a certain number of retirees in the state increased to a certain number that would facilitate implementing the next phase, which would be from 40 to 70 percent and then capped again. The surviving-spouse homestead tax reduction bill is currently at one year where a surviving spouse would receive waiver or a partial waiver of homestead tax and the proposed bill would allow for five years' receipt after the veteran deceases and it looks promising this will pass. Mr. Severson also mentioned the importance of the 13-member campus-liaison program to help over 12,000 veterans navigate campuses throughout the state. The next MAG meeting will be April 18 at 9 a.m. in Room 500 North.

MN Military Affairs - Lt. Col. Sandy Best - A handout was provided regarding the upcoming 28 National Guard deployments. The Primary ceremony will be held May 22 at Historic Ft. Snelling. If you have any questions on the ceremonies, please contact Lt. Col Best at Sandra.best1@us.army.mil or Diane Buszta at diane.buszta@us.army.mil. Good news, the flood fight for 2011 has not needed as much support from the MN National Guard as was originally anticipated. For planning, a battalion has been assigned per river valley and then further personnel will be used to support operations as needed. No support requests have been received for the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. They do anticipate getting support requests from the Red River Valley. Current predictions are that Holman Field should stay dry. Annette Kuyper asked that it be mentioned that a number of Yellow Ribbon Communites will be recognized this summer and those dates will be shared at the next UVLC meeting. April is Month of the Military Child. The VA has set up a website where, during April, military families can ask that their child receive a letter from the governor recognizing their supporting role. That website address is: www.mdva.state.mn.us/child.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Kathy Vitalis - 300 people came to their Duluth grand opening. Ms. Vitalis is pleased with where things sit with their one-time funding of $100,000. September 23, Officers Club, is the MACV annual fundraiser. She encouraged the various organizations and/or agencies to donate a basket to the silent auction for this event. This will also help promote your group in the process. Stand Downs: Rochester, June 13; Metro, Ft. Snelling Base Camp, August 2 and 3. 17 veterans and their families have been helped with the V4V grant money. Gratitude was expressed for the color laser printer. Qwest Pioneers (a volunteer group from Qwest Communications) is attempting to put together 2,000 hygiene kits to be used at the Stand Downs. All of the items brought to the UVLC meetings' box for the MACV will be used for these kits as well. Ralph Donais then mentioned alarm clocks can be purchased for $1 at your local Goodwill, etc., and given to Ms. Vitalis to provide to the veterans as well.

Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Airborne Daze - John Stepan - Mr. Stepan, along with Al Jorgenson, are the two Transition-Assistance Advisors for the State of MN. They work to guide veterans through services and benefits. He is also Vice President of the MN Chapter of the Special Forces Assn. He passed out a flier about their Third Annual Airborne Daze at the Drop Zone. Everyone, including family members, are welcome to come out and jump. This will be held on June 11, 2011 at Skydive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. Contact him by May 27 at 612-968-3196 or jstepan61@msn.com if you are interested in doing a tandem jump. John Hankes, a Hastings resident, served in the first Special Service Force, the Devils Brigade, during WWII and will be celebrating his 90th birthday on June 11. They hope to get him out for the event. Also, Andy Qualley and his wounded warriors hockey team may be in attendance.
Wounded Warrior Program - Gunnery Sgt. Mansig (sp) - He works for the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment at the VAMC with post-9/11 Marine Corps veterans. If you know of any veterans who fit this profile, please contact him. His card was circulated at the meeting.

Announcements - Ralph Donais mentioned the Armed Forces Service Center needs volunteers. It takes 360 volunteers a month to operate. Volunteers do a four-hour shift. It is open 365 days a year; it never closes. Next month, someone will be at the meeting to talk about an organization called "Defending the Blue Line." This organization provides support and money for the dependents of deployed military who would like to play the expensive sport of hockey. Fliers were available talking about the Minnesota Air Guard Museum's newly-approved MN Air and Space Center. In honor of the 90th anniversary of the first federally-recognized Air Guard unit in the country, an expo will be held. It is hoped that the forthcoming e-mail many will receive will be distributed so there can be good attendance at the expo. Dean Ascheman mentioned the recent DAV Pheasant Hunt in St. Joseph. 20 hunters were involved. 1300 shots were fired and they managed to bag 165 of the 200 released pheasants. Ralph mentioned the rosters are now 98 percent accurate. The next

UVLC meeting will be May 4. The State agencies will be up first.

Adjournment followed by short recess

Business Meeting

Old Business:

Treasurer's Report: It was a great month for dues in that 15 organizations have paid. There are nine left unpaid. They are: American Ex-Pows, AmVets, DAV, Jewish War Veterans, Korean War Veterans, MOAA, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses, VFW, and Womens Marines. Balance as of March 1, 2011: $4,049.16. Deposits, $1,250. Expenses: Parking, $29.75; Printing, $37.41 for a total of $67.16. Balance as of April 1, 2011, $5,232.

A motion was made by Jerry Kyser and seconded that $100 be appropriated for Chairman's travel expenses. Motion passed.

Dean Ascheman commented on the trascriber's abilities. Ralph Donais then mentioned she will be on vacation next month so he will have to get the minutes off the tape.

New Business:

Ralph Donais encouraged all to go to the MN Dept of Veterans Affairs website and go to "Bill Tracking" to keep updated on the veterans bills. There are over 30 veterans organizations that belong to the UVLC. If just one person from each group would show up at a committee meeting, with a few extra here and there, there could be 40 people at a committee meeting. The session doesn't really end until May.

Al Loehr made a motion to pay $25.71 for an ink cartridge for the treasurer. Seconded by Dean Ascheman. Motion passed.

Motion to adjourn was made and seconded. Motion passed.

Meeting adjourned at 11:50 a.m.