Meeting Minutes for August 3, 2011

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Call to Order - 9:30 a.m.

Invocation

Pledge of Allegiance

Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie; Allen Elsbury, Commander of the AmVets.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie: Mr. Ritchie mentioned the MOPH and American Legion National Conventions coming to the Twin Cities soon. Also, his department will be at the MN State Fair A new "Business Services" system will be launched in September and you are encouraged to contact Mr. Ritchie's office if you are connected with a business association such as Rotary or working with a business that would like to expand their support. Planning has begun for MN's Civil War 150th-anniversary events. It was discussed at the MAG meeting about going to the legislature next year to be able to collect information on veteran-owned businesses, which must be 51 percent veteran owned.

1. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Dept of Veterans Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito - The metro Stand Down was mentioned. Comm. Shellito gave his impressions of the legislative session as it related to veterans Bills and the budget. He noted that the more contentious issues were run through very quickly. 90 percent of the MDVA budget goes to the Veterans Homes. $1.8 Billion comes through the state of MN from the VA Medical Center and veterans, with the majority of the money coming in the form of compensation, pension, life insurance, home loans, GI Bill, etc. In the end, MN veterans have been "held harmless" with the budget outcome, although a "warning shot" was fired. There are over 381,000 veterans in MN, 28 percent of whom are receiving some form of veterans benefit. He will be working with veterans organizations and auxiliaries to help them get the word out to the legislature about veterans' needs. Also, CVSOs are the entry point for many veterans, so he wants to make sure the County Commissioners realize what a valuable resource they are.

MN Veterans 2012 Legislative Info - Mike McElhiney - A Legislative Session Review was handed out. You may also go to www.mdva.state.mn.us and go to the legislative link to get this information. Mr. McElhiney highlighted several items such as the Higher Education Veterans Program and MACV funding. Also, $738,000 was received for operating costs for the Fergus Falls Veterans Home and funding for administrative costs for the MN GI Bill. About a third of the 45 veterans and military Bills were passed into law and there was a slight increase in the MDVA budget.

MNDVA - Gil Acevedo - Fergus Falls 21-bed, adult day care, and Silver Bay projects are almost complete. Open-house info will be coming soon.

Womens Veterans - Barb - "A Place of Grace" out of Washington County offered two women's retreats in July. There is an employment initiative called Veterans in Piping with the United Association of Welders and Pipefitters. This program will start in November, is a crash course in piping and welding, and a job is guaranteed to the veteran participants.

MN Military Affairs - Lt. Colonel Sandy Best - The Dept of Military Affairs is pleased with the budget results. The Special Session resulted in bonding for predesign money to expand the education center at Camp Ripley, as well as expanded money for the state tuition reimbursement program. There are 2,600 National Guard soldiers, both army and air, currently deployed. Recent department activities were mentioned, including the Partnership for Peace with Croatia as well as festivities surrounding the 90th anniversary of the 133rd Airlift Wing. The August 8 and 9 trip for the congressional staff was cancelled and a new trip is scheduled for August 22 and 23 which will include legislative staff. It will start at the 133rd Airlift Wing, then going to Duluth and ending at Camp Ripley. On September 18 an open house will be held at Camp Ripley called "Welcome Home Vietnam Vets."

MN Military Affairs -- Annette Kuyper - An update was given on the Yellow Ribbon Recognition Program. Dakota County has taken on Yellow Ribbon as a project this year through their Health and Human Services. It was encouraged to have veterans organizations work with the Yellow Ribbon committees in their communities to help better identify veteran families in their midst.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Kathy Vitalis - Not present

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser - MAG will continue to work with MN/Dot regarding the veteran-owned-business-contracts issue. They all agreed to it, even though the Bills did not pass. The authors of the Bills have to resubmit them at the next session. They are also working nationally on this issue.

2. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Director, Antione Waller - The Stand Down was mentioned. The VA is now the only entity at the Whipple Federal Building, along with several veterans service organizations. All other agencies have moved out. The renovation will take about 13 months. There is a new Undersecretary for Benefits, General Allison Hickey. There are now only roughly 1,000 Agent Orange Claims pending in this VARO and they should be completed by September 30. EBenefits was discussed. This is a joint collaboration with DOD and the VA to provide electronic access for all veterans to their military and claims records. It will allow the veteran to check on pending claims, change their address, dependency status, etc.

Mr. Waller introduced Kim Swenson, Tim Knudson, and Jacob Eilbert, Regional Loan Center employees. Ms. Swenson spoke, mentioning they were at the meeting to provide answers to any questions about the VA home loan program after the meeting. She highlighted the fact their office handles a nine-state jurisdiction in the Midwest, which includes Minnesota. They also service delinquent loans nationwide. If a loan is current but the veteran would like to reduce their mortgage payment, one option is the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan, and a handout was available regarding this. Other payment options were mentioned, depending on the loan's circumstances. Their phone no. is: 1-800-827-0611 (Option 1).

VISN 23 - Judy Johnson Mekota - A handout was provided. Ms. Johnson Mekota highlighted the fact that Secretary Shinseki recently announced the award of $460,000 to public housing agencies in Minneapolis and St. Cloud to supply permanent housing for 75 of Minnesota's homeless veterans. Veterans can now review past and future medical appointments on My HealtheVet, as well as lab results. In-person authentication at the VAMC is required to access this. Tele-ICU was recently launched at the Minneapolis VAMC.

Minneapolis VA Medical Center - Mike Rosecrans - He said he had nothing, other than they're on track for the Northwest CBOC for the middle of November.

St. Cloud VA Medical Center - Mike Mynczywor - The new construction at the St. Cloud VAMC was mentioned. With the VISN, St. Cloud is working on the Outreach and Retention Council. Only 52 percent of eligible veterans are currently enrolled in the VA. With My HeatheVet, you can use the "Secure Messaging" feature to contact your health care provider directly.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Brad Butler - A major irrigation project is underway, with completion scheduled for late September. During July 2011 there were 482 interments; total interments fiscal year to the end of July, 4051; total veteran interments at the cemetery, 196,158; Rifle Squad performed 239 honors for veterans in July, with 1951 fiscal year to the end of July.

Vets Employment & Training Service (VETS) - Not Present

Vet Center - Not Present

3. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Tim Cossalter - The Senator continues to work on the Sexual Survivor's Act wherein the records of assault/abuse would be kept indefinitely. She also continues to work on the Veterans to Paramedic Act, as well as Veterans One Source and Helping our Homeless Veterans Act. The VA would like to see 0 percent homeless vets and this bill would help in that effort.

Senator Al Franken - Nate Arch - Not Present

7th District Representative Collin Peterson - Al Loehr - As of March 1, 2013, all VA checks will be sent via electronic deposit. Several bills, HR 1154, the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act, HR 1855, the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service Act, HR 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, and HR 2530, which provides for increased flexibility on rates for reimbursement of state veterans homes by the VA, cleared the House VA subcommittee.

1st District Representative Tim Walz - Shawn Schloesser - Rep Walz's travels, including to the LaCrosse Vets Center and the Tomah VAMC, were highlighted. VISN 21 includes one county in Southeastern MN, serving 2300 veterans, which is why Rep Walz was in Wisconsin. HR 1025, Veterans Status Bill, honors servicemen and women who were in the National Guard and Reserve who retire but due to the definition cannot be called "veterans." It has left the subcommittee, is headed for the full committee, and there are high hopes it will be approved and go on to the Senate for approval. HR 1855, the traumatic brain injury bill, looks at the independence and quality of life of veterans with TBIs after their treatment at the VA is concluded. That Bill has also left the subcommittee and is headed to the full committee when they reconvene in September. The VA has a Mentor Protege Program. The VA wants to partner with veteran-owned small business owners and assist them with subcontracts and also prime contracts. Open season is August 1 to 30.

2nd District Representative John Kline - Chaz Johnson - On September 19 Rep Kline will be hosting a jobs fair at the Eagan Community Center. The caveat of the businesses at the fair is that they are hiring, not just collecting resumes. On September 17 is the Service Academy from 9 a.m. to noon.

3rd District Representative Eric Paulson - John Paul Yates - Rep Paulson attended a deployment family picnic at Fort McCoy last month. Rep Paulson was asked to serve on the board of the MN Military Family Tribute Foundation. They provide financial assistance, say, for a mortgage issue, auto repair, etc., to a military family while their servicemember is abroad. Rep Paulson was able to fly home and attend the funeral of a Marine from Greenfield who was killed in Afghanistan.

4th District Representative Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland - Not Present

5th District Representative Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler - Not Present

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann - Nicole Severson - Annette Kuyper was recognized for the great work she does with the Yellow Ribbon Program. During the debt ceiling debate Ms. Bachmann cosponsored the PROMISES Act, which would direct the treasury to pay military personnel during the debate, should it have been protracted. The service dogs act is moving forward and looks promising. Rachel Horn will be covering the UVLC meetings when Ms. Severson is unable to attend. Callie Wahl will no longer be with Rep Cravaack's office. She is going to Northwestern College as the director of annual giving.

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack - Callie Wahl - Not Present

Announcements

Ralph Donais - The military budget has been rumored to be cut by varying amounts. Commissaries may close, which would greatly impact active military. Mr. Donais urged the congressional reps in attendance to look out for the military and their families, active, reserve, and retired. Retiree Appreciation Days will be held August 26 in Rosemount, August 27 at Camp Ripley, September 10 at Black Bear Casino and September 24 at Mystic Lake.
Bob Smith - Rainbow Foods has a program whereby if certain items are purchased, a portion of the charge goes to the Honor Flight Program. Additionally, they list in the ad the employees of Rainbow who are veterans. Mr. Smith encouraged all, when they shop at Rainbow, to ask to see the manager and express appreciation for their hiring veterans, the Honor Flight Program donation, etc.

Joe Schirmers - On Thanksgiving weekend, the first 5x8 photo of the Army will be hanging in the cemetery in Little Falls.

Jerry Kyser - He is in receipt of a letter from the Dept of Interior endorsing the Air and Space Museum, along with Hennepin County, the State of Minnesota, and National Park Service.

Meeting adjourned at 11:20 a.m.

Next meeting will be at 9:30 on Wednesday, September 7, 2011.

Old Business:

Treasurer's Report: Balance as of July 1, 2011, $5,462.04; no deposits; expenses of $230; Balance as of August 1, 2011,

$5,232.04. Cretin High School had one appointment to each of the five academies this year, first time it's ever happened in Cretin's history.

Bob Smith - Mr. Smith made a motion, seconded by Don Rusk, that the UVLC send a letter to Roundy's Corporation, parent of Rainbow Foods, thanking them for their efforts on behalf of veterans' employment and the Honor Flight donation.

Unidentified speaker - Suggested all attendees to the UVLC meetings wear their covers, as was once the custom. After some discussion, it was determined that it will be left up to the individuals' preference as to if they wear their covers or not.

Dean Ascheman suggested a handout be made up that would list veteran-related newsletters, bulletins, websites, etc., that the members may with to subscribe to.

Ralph Donais mentioned that it should be looked at what didn't get through that was being worked on last year and make sure the appropriate people resubmit those Bills so the UVLC gets the new numbers for next year. Also, he would like one UVLC member to track one Bill next legislative session.

No New Business

Motion to adjourn, seconded and passed.

Meeting adjourned at 11:35 a.m.

Next meeting will be 0930, Bldg 9, 7 September