Meeting Minutes for October 2011

Minutes Header

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Call to Order: 9:35 a.m.

Invocation: Performed by Lt. Coder, Chaplain candidate with the MN National Guard

Pledge of Allegiance

Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests: MOPH Commander

Announcements: Jerry Kyser mentioned Saturday, October 8 is the next Honor Flight. It will depart at 6:30 a.m. 100 WWII veterans will be on board. Veterans Service Organizations and all others are encouraged to come line the portal and salute these veterans when they return to the Humphrey Terminal 2 around 10:30 p.m. This flight will arrive in D.C. at Terminal A, Gate 1 at 9:40 a.m. and will be greeted by some Congressional people. The next Honor Flight is April 28, 2012, followed by October 2012. Rainbow Foods donated $10,000 and Quik Trips have donated $36,000.

Ralph Donais mentioned the Women Veterans Fall Luncheon will be held Saturday, October 15. Also, if you've not done so, please read the newsletter from the MDVA. It is filled with good information. One thing of note: MN veterans homes are winning awards. Gil Acevedo is leaving his job as Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Health Care of the MDVA. Finally, an artist is doing 5 drawings in Little Falls depicting, for example, the Army and events it has been involved in from its inception to the present. These should be done around Thanksgiving.

1. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Tim Cossalter: 3 current Bills were mentioned: Helping the homeless vet, Veterans to Paramedics Act, and Support for Survivors Act (the Bill dealing with preservation of records in sexual assault cases). Anecdotally, a significant number of sexual assaults in Iraq were against males. One success: On October 1, the GI Bill has been expanded to allow veterans to use these benefits for job training and apprenticeship programs besides 4-year colleges.

Senator Al Franken, Nate Arch: After much data has been received, it is apparent rural health care is an issue that's not being adequately addressed legislatively. Less is getting done. This year, 28 bills were passed. Last year 198 and the year before it was 230 bills passed. The question becomes how to get things done in Congress without Congressional action. The answer seems to be finding ways to enact programs within existing funding to help veterans. The Office of Rural Health is an entity out there with funding but no vision, no data collection, but great potential with proper molding of their mission. The Diabetes Prevention Program was discussed, trying to get this implemented in the VA health care system. The service dogs program is running in Florida and early reports are encouraging. If you know of anyone who had stop loss, there is retroactive pay available out there for you of $500 a month. Go to www.defense.gov/stoploss for more info. You may also call Senator Franken's office and they'll point you in the right direction about who to call. A handout was also provided about the repeal of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy.

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

1st District Representative Tim Walz, Shawn Schloesser: Two pieces of legislation Rep Walz authored left the Veterans Affairs Committee and will be heading to the House floor: HR 1025, which would honor the service of Guard and Reserve members who served at least 20 years but were not called up for active duty by granting them "veteran" status. Also, HR 1855, a TBI bill, would address gaps and clarify services that are available to those veterans who have sustained a severe traumatic brain injury.

2nd District Representative John Kline, Chaz Johnson: On September 11, Rep Kline was at the Capitol, along with Senator Klobuchar, for a prayer service and flyover in recognition of the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks. At September's job fair there were just under 100 companies that participated with over 1,100 people who came seeking employment. Nationwide there is a guestimate of over 1 million veterans who are unemployed with 16,000 of those in Minnesota. On September 17 their Service Academy information session was held. 150 people came, including 68 students. One piece of legislation Rep Kline cosponsored, as well as probably every other MN state rep, is a gold medal for the Montford Point Marines, the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps starting in WWII.

3rd District Representative Eric Paulson, John Paul Yates: On September 11, Rep Paulson attended the memorial dedication in Mound. They had an Academy night last month. 35 packets were sent out to interested students in the district and about 12 have been returned. Interviews will be December 3. Rep Paulson signed on to HR 2848, Veterans Religious Freedom Act. This Bill stemmed from a constituent bringing to Rep Paulson's attention the fact that in Houston, TX the cemetery required any funeral prayers be submitted beforehand for approval. The word "God" was not allowed at funeral services. This Houston issue has since been resolved. This Bill would prohibit the Secy of Veterans Affairs from being able to censor religious messages at military funerals. The lead sponsor is Congressman Ted Poe from Texas.

4th District Representative Betty McCollum, Connie Haddeland: Last Friday Rep McCollum spoke at the deployment of the 135th Agribusiness Development Team. 22 individuals were deployed to Afghanistan, including 6 women, under the command of Col Eric Ahlness. HR 2646, Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011, has been presented to the President. This Bill extends to December 31, 2018 specified authority for: 1, treatment, rehabilitation and additional services for seriously mentally ill and homeless veterans; 2, housing assistance for homeless veterans; and 3., the continuation of an advisory committee on homeless veterans. The American Jobs Act, it is encouraged you pay attention to the tax credits there for returning heroes as veterans are a targeted group within that Act. In September Ms. Haddeland was in D.C. at an Army casework training event. For the first time, the Dept of Veterans Affairs was brought in to discuss the change from the legacy disability system to the integrated disability claims system that is expected to be in place by October 15. This should streamline the claims process. Rep McCollum is going to hold a jobs "forum" in November, date to be determined. This forum will bring in Chambers of Commerce, businesses and advocacy groups to discuss the hiring of vets. Ecolab in St. Paul has active programs to hire veterans. More details to come at the next UVLC meeting.

5th District Representative Keith Ellison, Mike Siebenaler: Rep Ellison is on a lot of the already-mentioned Bills. He addressed the recent American Legion National Convention. Academy night was held this past Monday. The numbers are down as recruiting is difficult. If you know of anyone in the 5th District who would be interested, please contact Mr. Siebenaler as there are academy spots to fill. Premiums for new enrollees into Tricare went up October 1. On October 19, Rep Ellision will meet with veterans from the district who served in Iraq and Afghanistan within the last ten years. The media and the public haven't really been invited. They just want to hear about their service and what it meant to them and their families. Contact Mr. Siebenaler if you know of any veterans who fit the criteria and would like to attend.

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann, Nicole Severson: Rep Bachmann's office attended the MN Veterans Service Officers Fall Conference. Rachel Horn attended the ag deployment. They were also in attendance at the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Ceremony at Camp Ripley. They were in attendance at several homeless veterans summits. Becky and Hannah from the D.C. office met with 100 WWII veterans there in D.C. Two Academy Nights were held. Senator Franken's office was there as well. The turnout was not as great as they'd hoped for. If you would like Rep Bachmann to participate in any upcoming Veterans Day events, please contact their office. If she's unable to attend, a staff member would love to come and bring a letter in honor and participate in the event.

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack, Brian Gordon: Mr. Gordon handles all the Service Academy nominations. Perry Nouis, who is out of their Brainerd office, handles all of their military veterans issues. In late September the Homeland Security Committee on which Rep Cravaack is a member, passed HR 1801. This Bill requires the TSA to provide a separate screening process for military personnel flying on civilian aircraft. It would allow separate lines with a faster process. On September 30, Rep Cravaack was able to visit Donald Clavay (sp), Sr., retired Sergeant of the US Air Force, of Duluth at his home to present him with the National Defense Service Medal for his Korean War service. On October 12, the Service Academy info session will be held.

2. State Agencies and MN Veterans Assistance Organizations

MN Dept of Veterans Affairs, Anna Long: Brad Lindsay (ph) of their department is taking a close look to make sure they are interpreting the definition of "veteran" correctly. The official State of MN Veterans Day program will be held at the Inver Grove Heights Armory. There will be a free breakfast prior to the program. The program starts at 10 a.m. All congressional offices have been asked to speak. V4V has funded for the MN Veterans Homes a documentary which will showcase all five homes. It will be aired on Twin Cities Public Television close to Veterans Day. October 29 is the Women Veterans Summit at St. Kate's. You can go to MDVA's website for more info and may RSVP with Barb O'Reilly or on Facebook. Gil Acevedo is leaving as he accepted a position in the private sector. His last day is Tuesday, October 11. There will be a farewell celebration that day from 2 to 6 p.m. at the American Legion Richfield Post 435, 6501 Portland Avenue S. in Richfield. On that note, 3 of the 5 homes just completed their MN Dept of Health survey and had outstanding results. A comment was made from the audience that since the Veterans Homes had such bad press a few years ago, the word should be spread about the good work they are doing.

MN Veterans 2011 Legislative Info, Mike McElhiney: Not present

MN Military Affairs, Lt. Col Sandy Best: Don Rask earlier asked a question about a recent Star Trib article that talked about military personnel suicide and Lt. Col Best addressed that. The military tracks suicides and MN is rated at the top. Resiliency training in the Army is one way this is being addressed. This sends the message "It's okay if you're not okay. Reach out for help." The Star Trib article didn't seem to tell the whole story, it was fragmented. The author of the Star Trib piece was brought in to show him the resiliency training but it didn't quite make its way to the article. Part of the reason MN shows a high rate of suicide is we are better at tracking than some other states so the numbers may not adequately tell the whole story. On October 17 a Star Base reopening event will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Congressman Ellison, who helped get funding, will be there. It's at the 133rd Air Lift Wing. As of September 16, 71 cities have been proclaimed Yellow Ribbon. In all, 95 entities have been proclaimed including 15 companies and 8 counties. The next two proclamation ceremonies will be November 5 in Red Wing at 2 p.m. and then December 14 in Duluth. There will be a Gold Star Family retreat in October. On October 2 the Court of Honor induction program was held at Camp Ripley. A special recognition ceremony was held for surviving members of the 47th Infantry Division who served in the Korean War.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), Kathy Vitalis: Ms. Vitalis addressed media reporting. She said when she's called by the media, if it's not her program she says "No comment," and tells them which agency they should contact instead; i.e., funneling to the source of the info. At the recent Stand Downs, in Duluth, 250 veterans came through, 55 providers. Bemidji, 170 veterans. Grand Rapids, about 100 veterans. There was a Stand Down in Rochester for the first time with about 100 veterans coming through. This included a court component with judges on site and the info says 22 veterans were helped with 5 actually needing the judge and court and their issue was resolved. MACV's annual fund raising event was a huge success. For next fall's event, Ms. Vitalis is looking for talent that does not charge a lot. December 2 is the Building 47 annual Holiday Open House from noon to 5 p.m.

Military Action Group (MAG), Jerry Kyser: MAG will be working on grassroots legislation at the capitol. A meeting was held with the new Deputy Commissioner of Mn/Dot, Alex Tittle, about the veteran-owned-business contracts. A new project about the year 1968 will be opening this month at the History Center. It features a Huey helicopter that's been taken apart, as well as the Tet Offensive. Finally, appreciation was expressed for all who participated in the tribute to the uniformed services in September.

3. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office, Donald Munro, Assistant Director: There is a proposal into Washington to make the Voc Rehab area paperless. They are awaiting funding to move forward. The Rules Based Processing system got approved. The system is being developed and hopefully tested by the end of the month. They'll start with dependency changes where you can make those changes online. The single-signature program was also discussed. This allows the previously-required second signator to be working on other claims at the same time. Over 6,300 cases have been completed in the last year using that system. The "Rating Design Project" was mentioned. This pilot project is to increase the speed of claims processing. Rating Decisions are written in a little less detail allowing some rating specialists to do almost twice as much work as under the traditional system. In fact, they have been so productive within this system they were running out of work so they took on claims from other ROs. This included 3,000 Nemer Agent Orange cases in February 2011 and they're not down to 12 pending cases. They've also taken on claims from Hartford, CT and Waco, TX. All veterans are encouraged to sign up for ebenefits.

VISN 23, Janet Murphy, Director: Flu shot vaccine is in. Everybody 6 mos. and older should be getting a flu shot. The new data suggests if you have a mild allergy to eggs, you may still safely get a flu shot. Talk this over with your health care provider. Minneapolis is up and running on the Million Veteran Program. This project collects genomic data on veterans. The goal is to use this genetic data to improve health care for veterans. This project is highlighted in the VISN 23 newsletter. Minnesota is now up and running with the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record pilot. This project links the sharing of health info for veterans in Twin Ports between VA facilities and private facilities and the DoD. Eventually, the hope is to have this program at all VA Medical Centers. Discharge summaries, medication lists and tests performed would be some of the important information that could be shared between the entities. Retroactive traumatic injury benefits are no longer restricted to OEF/OIF injuries. It does not have to be a combat-related injury. The qualifying injury must have occurred between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005. You are encouraged to read the VISN 23 newsletter and/or go to www.insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/TSGLI/TSGLI.htm for more info. Ms. Murphy mentioned that the Office of Rural Health that Mr. Arch referred to earlier has been a great source of funding for various VISN 23 projects, such as the audiology van in St. Cloud and some CBOCs.

Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Mike Rosecrans, Legislative Liaison: Mr. Rosecrans read an announcement concerning the Veterans Resource Outreach Center. The contract was awarded today, October 5, 2011. It will open in February 2012 at 1201 Harmon Place, downtown Minneapolis. Ten-year lease of a 9400 square foot space. It's one of 16 centers the VA has approved nationwide. This center is an aid in obtaining the VA's ultimate goal of eliminating veteran homelessness. Walk-in flu shot clinic is October 17 to 21 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the flag atrium at the VAMC. The grand opening for the NW Metro CBOC will be held on November 11 at 1 p.m. All are invited.

St. Cloud VA Medical Center, Barbara Oemcke: It looks like they will be okay with the FY12 budget, although it will probably get tighter in the coming years. Patient growth has slowed a little bit, so they are doing outreach in the St. Cloud area and areas around the CBOCs to attract more veterans to serve. Contact Barry Venable if you know of vets, particularly Vietnam veterans, in this area who may be served. Day Surgery is now operational and they are doing 20-plus surgeries a week. They are slowly ramping up. Their Community Living Center, the nursing home, has the capacity for about 225 veterans and they are averaging about 215 to 220, so they are keeping quite full. St. Cloud received a national Veterans Transportation Service Award for this fiscal year and the coming FY. They will receive $225,000 in FY12 and a similar amount in FY13, as well as a couple of 12-passenger handicap-accessible vans that they will partner with veterans service organizations in the community to provide transportation to vets who need access to VA health care. Flu shots are available in October, including spouses of veterans who would pay $27, although this can be submitted to insurance. The film "Going Blind" was mentioned. An e-mail was sent out by Ralph on this recently. The contact person for that event is Heidi Ampe (sp) and she may be reached at 1-320-255-6480. A Veterans Day parade is planned for November 6 at the VA/Apollo High School. They are looking for involvement and would welcome the attendance of the congressional folks. Applications for participation in the parade are due by October 7. Kelly Olson at the St. Cloud Times, 320-255-8767, is the contact person. St. Cloud has a new prescription refill line. The toll-free number is 1-855-560-1724. If a veteran calls the old number, they will be given the new number and need to call back to access this new number. At Stand Down will be held October 28 from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. at the National Guard Armory. A Veterans Day ceremony will be held November 11 in the auditorium.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery, Artis Parker, Acting Director: Mr. Parker introduced Kimberly Brockman, Assistant to the Director. Ms. Brockman gave a brief bio. Interments continue to rise. Last year, there were roughly 4,600 interments and this year there were 4,938. Ft. Snelling encourages veterans and their families to express their religious beliefs in whatever manner they choose at military funerals. During September 2011 there were 416 total interments with 147 casketed, 211 cremations and 58 columbarium. Total interments year to date, 197,045 with 153,263 casketed, 40,942 cremations and 2,840 columbarium. There were 6 female veteran interments in September for a total of 1,568. During September 106 WWII veterans were interred, 46 Korea, 62 Vietnam, 1 Persian Gulf, 15 Peacetime, 0 OEF/OIF and 186 dependents. During September, 186 veterans were honored by the Rifle Squad with a total of 2,376 for the year. An emergency backup generator is currently being installed at the cemetery. Anticipated completion date is February 2012. The Wreaths Across America Ceremony will be December 10 at 11 a.m. at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a wreath, the contact person is Richard Guise (sp) at 651-636-9724. The Medallion Benefit Program was discussed and examples of the medallions were displayed. This is for veterans buried in private cemeteries who were not provided a government-furnished headstone. These medallions are affixed to those grave markers and signifies a veteran is laid to rest there.

Lt. Col Kathleen (sp) Couillard: Gave a brief bio. A handout was provided outlining the joint Army Reserve/National Guard pre-retirement briefing at Camp Ripley on Saturday, October 22 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Only 15 percent of Reservists right now are receiving a pre-retirement briefing.

Five-minute recess

Brady Bautch, My HealtheVet coordinator, VISN 23: Mr. Bautch gave a comprehensive demo on the features of My HealtheVet. Some of the key features include a medical library, ability to view your VA appointments, VA lab results, and any VA medications you have an adverse reaction or allergy to, as well as refill medications. You can also self-enter information. There is also a "Blue button" features which allows you to download and/or print either self-entered information or VA appointments, lab results, etc. Additionally, there is a Secure Messaging feature where you can contact your health care provider without sitting on hold on the phone. This feature is not for urgent communication. To take full advantage of My HealtheVet you must accomplish an in-person authentication. You can do this at any VAMC or CBOC in VISN 23 through the Release of Information office or the My HealtheVet coordinator. If you complete the in-person authentication through the VISN, it will also work for ebenefits.

There was not a quorum for a business meeting, but the following issues were discussed: Treasurer's report: Balance as of September 1, $5,202.29. There were no deposits. Expenses: $29.75 for parking and $115 for transcription for a total of $144.75. Balance as of October 1, $5,057.54.

Ralph Donais mentioned the legislative session for 2012 is going to be a short session so you need to be ready to go when it starts. Please provide ideas you or your organization think are important legislatively that can be worked on at the Capitol. The certification of medics is an issue that can now be brought forward again. Ralph said he is willing to be Chairman for two more years, should you wish that to happen. Elections will need to be held in December. It's probably time to review the Bylaws again since it was last done in 2007. Please e-mail Ralph if you are interested in helping with that task and he will e-mail the Bylaws back to you. At the next meeting, the changes can be discussed.

Someone brought up the issue of not taxing military retiree's pay. Ralph said, as a retiree, he has a lot of data on that topic and it's something the MAG continues to work on. Minnesota is No. 2 in the nation for the highest tax rate for military retirees. Vermont is No. 1.

Ralph had his new business card there which states the UVLC is a "consortium" as he is frequently asked the question as he travels.

The next MAG meeting will be in two to three weeks.

The next UVLC meeting will be held on Wednesday, November 2 at 9:30 a.m.
Adjourned at 12:15 p.m.