Meeting Minutes for August 3, 2011

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Invocation

Pledge of Allegiance

Greetings; Recognition of visitors and guests: No guests present

Announcements: The MN Dept of Veterans Affairs will have a Pearl Harbor remembrance event on December 7 at 10 a.m., 5th Floor, Veterans Service Bldg. Also, the Minnesota History Center will host a 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Remembrance that same day at 7 p.m.

1. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office, Assistant Director Don Munro: All Nehmer claims at the St. Paul RO will be completed by December 15. Nationally, there are 13,000 pending Nehmer claims with the goal of completion by the end of the month. In FY11, over 1 million claims were completed with the St. Paul Veterans Service Center completing 30,447 and the Pension Management Center completing 47,436 of those claims. Over 4 million medical conditions were addressed with the average of four per claim. There were 107,925 VR&E participants nationwide, 9,784 of those were successfully employed. Over 1 million veterans signed up for My eBenefits. Working with the VAMC and other stakeholders, MN tripled My eBenefits participation in two months. The RO is about 7 - 8 months away from moving into the top floors of the Whipple Building as part of the construction project with completion scheduled for 2014.

VISN 23, Director Janet Murphy: There is a new, relatively painless way of flu shot delivery, which is right under the skin, so all are encouraged to get their flu shots. A handout, as always, was available. Highlight: VISN 23 was recently recognized by Sec Shinseki for its work with homeless veterans. The FY11 budget closed on target and they were able to meet all of their goals and commitments. The FY12 is a flat budget; no increase. They were asked by Sec Shinseki to discuss challenges in FY12 and accomplishments in the last year. One challenge is the need to grow. To get the budget where they would like it to be, they need to add about 10,000 new veterans to the network in FY12. Any help you can provide in bringing veterans into the network is appreciated. Advertising, within a very narrow scope, is now allowed and will be conducted. $9.5 million was just received in rural health funding. A fair amount of that came to MN with a large amount going to the Brainerd area for home-based primary care. Renovations for women's areas are wrapping up, creating a more women-friendly area. Included in this is private bathrooms, etc. During the January UVLC meeting, Dr. Steve Julius, Chief Network Officer, would like to come and speak during Ms. Murphy's time.

Minneapolis VA HCS, Director Steve Kleinglass: There are roughly 430,000 veterans in MN. The Minneapolis VA HCS is taking care of about 93,000 with St. Cloud treating about 37,000. Again, get the word out that the VA is now a good place for treatment. Within the next year, there will be no more cash paid out by the Agent Cashier for travel pay; everything will be direct deposit. There has not really been an efficient way to address the current long lines for travel pay. Dealing with the forms is what takes so long and in a very congested area. You may consider taking a number and waiting in one of the lounges or the cafeteria where it may be more comfortable for you. There are about 3,000 requests monthly for C&P exams and processing is done in under 20 days. The highest volume is in general medical with audiology being second. The dedication of the new NW Metro CBOC was discussed. The ongoing and proposed construction at the VAMC was discussed. These include the GI area, prosthetics, and the parking garage. Also, they hope to have Wifi in the cafeteria within the next several months. This was Mr. Kleinglass's last UVLC meeting as he retires at the end of the month. A retirement event will be held on December 22 in the afternoon in the flag atrium. Ralph Donais expressed how much Mr. Kleinglass's hard work and dedication has been appreciated.

St. Cloud VA HCS, Cheryl Thieschafer: Once again, it is encouraged to impress upon veterans that they can get great care through the VA HCS. About 351 veterans sleep at the St. Cloud HCS nightly with a great number of veterans seen on campus daily for outpatient care. About 5,700 OEF/OIF veterans are serviced, the majority of whom are from the National Guard. St. Cloud gets about 500 C&P applications monthly with a processing time of less than 14 days. Campus construction projects were briefly discussed, including dental, audiology and pharmacy. There was a handout available giving a new toll-free number for veterans with co-pay or billing questions. The BURR initiative was discussed. This will provide for 36 single-room either efficiency or one-bedroom units under new construction.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery: Not present

Vets Employment & Training Service (VETS): Not present

Vet Center: Chuck Sporer: There are three Vet Centers in Minnesota: New Brighton, Minneapolis (Brooklyn Park), and Duluth. Congresswoman McCollum came to visit the Vet Center. They are still building their case loads. A position was posted last week for a marriage and family counselor. This posting will be open until December 16. If you know a qualified candidate (degree, licensure and one year of experience), particularly if they are a veteran, they can contact Mr. Sporer directly or apply online at www.usajobs.gov. The OIF/OEF veterans, unlike the young Vietnam vets, tend to have families and careers established so family is a bigger issue for this population. Legislatively, Mr. Sporer is interested in the fact OIF/OEF veterans lose their eligibility, in some cases, with the VA after five years since combat-associated symptoms can emerge at any time in a lifetime. Also, the fact that a soldier can serve 25 years in the Reserves but because he/she has less than 180 days active duty they might not qualify as a veteran. Tamara Davis, volunteer, was introduced. She is Mr. Sporer's assistant one day a week.

CommonBond: Kathy Vitalis introduced Paul Fate, President and CEO of CommonBond. Accompanying Mr. Fate were Kelly Matter and Andrew Michaelson. Mr. Fate gave a brief summary of the history of this 40-year-old company. It is a nonprofit started out of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Their mission is "to build stable homes, strong futures and vibrant communities." The average income of residents in their housing is about $16,000. They are known for "advantage services," being one of the first in the country to go deep on services alongside the housing they develop. About half of their work has been preservation/renovation and half new construction. Their "core competencies" are real estate development, property management and services. There are a lot of moving parts, financially, politically, and programatically, to the projects they will undertake at Ft. Snelling and St. Cloud. CommonBond wishes to work side by side with the UVLC to get the political support and financing required for this project. A draft development plan was submitted the end of November and is now under review. In short, the plan is to develop 58 units of affordable housing at Ft. Snelling and 35 in St. Cloud. These units will be leased to homeless veterans. Ft. Snelling will have studio, 1, 2 and 3BR units to accommodate families. Offices, group meeting areas, etc., will be right on site for easy access for residents. The Sand Company out of St. Cloud will be the general contractor and architectural firm. Any issues at the Ft. Snelling site with asbestos, lead paint, etc., of environmental concern will be safety dealt with. Various methods of financing were discussed and future details will be provided as to what support the UVLC can provide in this area. VASH vouchers is an essential piece of making this successful.

2. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Not present

Senator Al Franken: Not present

7th District Representative Collin Peterson: Al Loehr: Not present

1st District Representative Tim Walz: Shawn Schloesser: Congressman Walz has been working on the Stock Act. It's gaining momentum with about 100 cosponsors. It stops members of Congress, Congressional staff and federal employees from being able to benefit financially from the information they gain because of their position. The Congressman recently returned from Afghanistan and had the opportunity to travel as a service member would when they were injured. He was also there three years ago, so he was able to observe changes from then until now. One dramatic change of note is how traumatic brain injuries are being handled by the military. He was able to visit a "spa-like" facility in theater that was double insulated from sound, had low lighting, allowing the brains of those who had sustained a concussive blast or injury time to rest. The new terminology for those who have sustained TBIs is they have "sprained their brain." About 98 percent of those who are injured return to duty within 14 days. They are also tracking the fact that once you reach three injuries you are placed in an administrative capacity to halt any further injuries. Cynthia Blankenship is no longer in their D.C. office. A Marine reservist, Brandon, has joined the D.C. staff. The Congressman was given the opportunity to solicit applications through the Wounded Warrior program for a Wounded Warrior to come to work in a two-year temporary position in his office in district. This weekend are their Academy nominations.

2nd District Representative John Kline: Chaz Johnson: The Congressman was in Chanhassen and Chaska. They are now Yellow Ribbon Communities. He is very concerned with the Super Committee and the DoD cuts. He was recently involved with Toys for Tots. Academy interviews were Saturday. 36 young men and women were interviewed.

3rd District Representative Eric Paulson: John Paul Yates: Not present

4th District Representative Betty McCollum: Connie Haddeland: A rundown of the Congresswoman's Veterans Day week activities was given, including going to the VARO and meeting with Mr. Waller and key staff, going to the New Brighton Vets Center. Also, a town hall and forum were held. It was noted the State of MN held a great event this year for Veterans Day and it will be hard to top. This past weekend, they were up at the Army Reserve 203rd Transportation Company ribbon cutting. Saturday, Academy nominations were held. You are encouraged to go onto the Dept of Labor's website as there are some initiatives for "older veterans." This provides some additional educational funds for those ages 35 to 60 who meet the criteria.

5th District Representative Keith Ellison: Mike Siebenaler: The Congressman attended the Veterans Day ceremony in Inver Grove Heights. The Super Committee failed to reach their agreement by November 23. Now, $1.2 Trillion has to be cut by the automatic triggers that are implemented, half coming from defense and half non-defense. VA health care and compensation are exempt from non-defense, as are Social Security "entitlements" and Medicare. Eleven Academy applicants will be interviewed December 17. Early next year, meetings will be held with some local business councils and Chambers of Commerce to discuss hiring veterans.

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann: Nicole Severson: The outcome of the Super Committee is very unclear at present. Some members are talking about undoing the whole defense aspect. The Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee is committed to ensuring the Pentagon doesn't get "slammed." Senator Graham has mentioned repealing it. Additional members have signed on to the Military Health Care Affordability Act. They have interviewed 26 Academy applicants and 24 will receive nominations.

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack: Brian Gordon: HR 1801 was passed 404 to 0 by the House, Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act. This bill requires the TSA to develop a separate screening process for military personnel flying on civilian aircraft. Northland Honor Flight will be having their third Honor Flight May 15, 2012. There were over 25 Academy applications with 18 interviews and all 18 will be nominated.

State Senator Ted Daley: He represents Eagan and western Burnsville. As a veteran himself, Senator Daley stated it is important to support our veterans and military. He is the vice chair of the Senate Veterans Committee and is the new Senator leading MAG, along with Jerry Kyser and Rep Bob Dettmer. Next MAG meeting is December 9 at 9 a.m. at the State Office Building. The 10-week legislative sessions starts January 24. Please bring any state veterans issues to Senator Daley.

3. State Agencies and MN Veterans Assistance Organizations:

MN Dept of Veterans Affairs: Commissioner Larry Shellito: Not present

MN Veterans 2012 Legislative Info: Mike McElhiney: The Veterans Day event in Inver Grove Heights. was a huge success. There is seating capacity for 500 and many people were standing in the back. A state economic forecast was just released stating there is much less of a deficit than in previous years. Fliers were available regarding the Pearl Harbor Day event at the Veterans Service Bldg on December 7 at 10 a.m. on the 5th Floor. You are encouraged to register at: www.mdva.state.mn.us to receive newsletters and the Friday Digest that is distributed containing updates, as well as federal and state legislative updates. The Office of Legislative Auditor released a report about the MN Veterans Home, followed by media coverage, and that was discussed. It is viewed by the MN DVA as a positive thing that this activity was found and an internal investigation is ongoing. Mn/DOT recently received a $1.19 million grant, the intent of which is to tie veterans' transportation into a network for easier access to the VAMC, etc. The expansion of the Minnesota GI Bill to include 35- to 60-year-old veterans to receive additional training was discussed. The continuation of the state appropriation for Honor Guard funding was also discussed.

MN Military Affairs: Major Kent Porter: Alex Tittle was introduced. He will be working with Mn/DOT and military affairs. The MN Nat'l Guard has a little over 3,000 troops deployed in six countries. On December 14, Duluth will have their Yellow Ribbon proclamation ceremony. On December 16, Thompson Reuters will have their Yellow Ribbon proclamation. On January 7, Elk River hopes to kick off their Yellow Ribbon. Chaplain Morris, who recently gave the invocation at the UVLC meeting, was promoted to Colonel. State Command Sergeant Major Cynthia Kallberg was recently sworn in. She is the first female to have that position in the MN National Guard's history, which goes back to 1858. MN also has a new Assistant Adjutant General, Air Brigadier General Worthholdt (sp). December 13 is the 375th birthday of the National Guard.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV): Kathy Vitalis: Over 200 people came to the open house at Building 47 last Friday. They are serving veterans under the SSVF grant. They got off to a late start but are ending the year having served about 100, a quarter's worth, of veterans under the grant. There are new outreach people in Detroit Lakes and Little Falls so they are trying to canvas the state a lot more with the grant. The Mankato open house is December 16. In February, Sgt. Major Cynthia Kallberg will be participating in Dancing With the Stars and has chosen MACV as her nonprofit to support. The Guard member doing the dance fundraiser for us is Christine Clayburg, not Cynthia Kallberg.  I have also copied Sandy on this.  Sorry Sandy, but you could show her this and she could see her brief claim to fame!

Military Action Group (MAG): Jerry Kyser: Senator Daley wanted Jerry to convey that there can be a greater opportunity to change and enhance veterans' initiatives on a state level than in Washington. The leadership of both the House and Senate in Minnesota are supportive of veterans' initiatives. Issues to be discussed this session will be charitable gambling, collaboration with the military, support of MACV, Federal Title 49 transportation changes, a number of different topics that were provided in the recent e-mail that was sent by Ralph Donais. All issues won't get through, but with the support of the House and Senate, on both sides of the aisle, some key issues can get through. The objective is to make MN more veteran friendly.

Ft. Snelling Military Museum: Tom Boland: Volunteers have been loading out vehicles for re-disbursement according to the orders they received. This operation is now slowing down. Some are going to the new Army Museum, Anniston, as well as other places. 11 vehicles have gone with 60 remaining to disburse. By fall of 2012 all vehicles should be gone. There will be a banquet in March, at which time they hope to have closure information and what the future holds.

Announcements:

Barb O'Reilly gave two Save the Dates: March 31, Hasting, South St. Paul and VFW 295 is having a Women Veteran Luncheon from noon to 3 p.m. Also, June 18 is a golf tournament with more details to come.

Meeting adjourned, followed by a ten-minute recess

Business Meeting at 11:37 a.m.

Old Business:

Treasurer's Report: Balance as of November 1, 2011, $4,912.79. Deposits: $50. Expenses: $255.86 (Parking $29.75, Donation to AFSC $111.11, Transcription Expense $115). Balance as of December 1, 2011: $4,706.93. The letter for next year's dues will be sent out sometime this month.

Election of Officers: Last meeting, Ralph Donais was nominated as Chairman, Lawrence Dean as Second Vice. Motion made by Nick Kakos, seconded by Jerry Nalipinski to elect the people who were nominated. Motion carried.

New Business:
Ralph mentioned the e-mail he sent out to everyone about the proposed legislative items. Out of the 40 or 50 that were sent out, there was only one response. Ralph said charitable gambling should be added to the list.

Allen Ellsbury, AmVets Commander, spoke on the topic of charitable gambling. On December 6 at 12:15 at the Capitol the Vikings stadium issue is coming up again and he had a letter in that regard. His Post is paying 40 percent graduated taxes right now. After taxes, payroll and other expenses, they have been forced to cut some of the charities they give to, such as Fisher House and the fishing opener at the Veterans Home each spring. They started out giving $8,000 to $10,000 a month to charities and that has all but fallen away. Other anecdotal evidence was given as to the high taxes paid from charitable gambling in this graduated-tax system and how many charities have had to be cut. There are two bills that have been floating around for five years that need to be passed. Some military hats were encouraged to be in attendance at the Stadium discussion tomorrow as it relates to charitable gambling.

Ralph Donais mentioned a handout he provided titled "How a Bill Becomes a Law in Minnesota." It is important to be recognized at the Capitol, as are Ralph and Jerry due to their frequent visits there, and to attend committee meetings, which is number 4 on the list on the handout. Also, get on the e-mail listing for the veterans and tax committees because a lot of these meetings are given with little notice.

Bob Connor brought up Allied Charities and wondered what they would say at the Vikings stadium meeting. No answer was forthcoming.

Jerry Kyser stated that, as a legislative organization, the UVLC needs to find out exactly what needs to be changed to allow nonprofits involved in gambling to be able to give to the community rather than to the state in the form of taxes. Ralph stated it will also be brought to the MAG committee.

Don Rask asked about the length of the positions of secretary and treasurer. Ralph responded Don's position as treasurer is up next year.

Ralph Donais noted that it states in the bylaws if an elected officer misses three consecutive meetings that they are eligible for removal. Ralph will be sending a letter to the secretary, who has not been in attendance for about six months, asking him to resign his post, making way for the election of a new secretary.

Don Rask asked about an update membership roster. Ralph Donais responded he has been working on that list, providing an annotation of who the new commander is for the year of each Congressionally-chartered organization. This roster will be complete by the January meeting.

There was discussion about the fact most organizations elect their officers annually in May.

Bob Smith made a motion that a mileage and parking allotment of $250 for the first quarter of 2012 be given to Ralph Donais. Second by Jerry Nalipinski. There was discussion brought up by Nick Kakos to amend the motion to $250 plus mileage. Ralph mentioned he works on veterans issues more as a passion and does not want payment. He would rather see members attend meetings with him at the Capitol. Or, in the alternative, do a random act of kindness such as lawn mowing, baby sitting, etc., for someone you normally would not do something for. Motion passed with only Ralph voting no.

Motion to adjourn made by Jerry Nalipinski. Seconded by Don Rask. Motion carried.

Meeting adjourned at 11:55 a.m.

Next UVLC meeting will be Wednesday, January 4 at 9:30 a.m. Bldg 9