Meeting Minutes for August 3, 2011

Minutes Header

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Call to Order: 9:30 a.m.

Invocation: Performed by Lt. Steve Nessley (sp), Chaplain candidate with the MN Army National Guard

Pledge of Allegiance

Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests: Vicki Latiolais, Women Marine Association; Rachel Horn, Rep. Bachmann's office; Laurie Gross (sp) MN Veterans Home; Brad Bourn, Veteran Justice Corps; Allen Elsbury, Commander of AmVets

1. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Peter Panos, PAO: VA Secretary Shinseki, who was in Minnesota to speak at the American Legion National Convention, did a meet and greet with many of the VARO employees. He also was taken to the State Fair to meet with several state and national representatives. Undersecretary for Benefits, General Hickey, also visited the Regional Office for an entire day looking at their processes. Mr. Panos encouraged all veterans to sign up for eBenefits, Level 2. This can be accomplished by going to the Public Contact area at the RO. You may also e-mail Mr. Panos at Peter.panos@va.gov and he will walk you through the process. Once enrolled, you can find out claims status, order medical supplies, get copies of DD214, etc. If you are signed up with My HealtheVet, you already have Level 2 access to eBenefits.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy, Director: Next month, My HealtheVet will be demonstrated at the meeting. Secretary Shinseki visited both Minnesota and Iowa. The good working relationship VHA and VBA have was highlighted to the Secretary. The Secretary's extensive tour of the various VA departments in both Minnesota and Iowa was talked about. This week, September 4 - 10, is National Suicide Prevention Week. If you know a veteran who seems suicidal and don't know what to say, call the VA's Coaching into Care line which is mentioned in the handout. It should be emphasized that depression is not a weakness and it takes courage to face life's difficult issues and seek help. The VA has been in the forefront of reporting medical errors. The number of errors has gone down and the number of "near misses" has risen. This "near miss" increase is a good sign in that it means there is closer scrutiny and the willingness to report has risen. The 2012 budget, although not yet approved, is flat at $2 Billion. There won't be fluff, but veterans' health care needs will definitely be met, as well as some equipment replacement and construction projects. A question was asked about the Million Vet Program, a research project which creates a DNA database, and this program was explained. Essentially, it is an effort to look at disease trends, earlier treatment intervention, etc. It is voluntary and no identifying info would be attached to the subjects involved in the study.

Minneapolis VAMC - Steve Kleinglass, Director: Secretary Shinseki's visited was discussed. The Secretary noted the number of cars in the VAMC lot, which led to an update on the parking garage construction. The Northwest Metro CBOC will be dedicated November 11 with the actual opening November 15. Veterans interested in getting on the list to transfer their care to this CBOC should call the VAMC Call Center. An update on the elevator, fire alarm system and other projects was provided. A question was asked about the colorectal clinic, which led to a discussion about that clinic, as well as the eye clinic. Both are manned by contract providers. Colorectal will have a new contractor as of October 1, so your providers will probably change there. You should see a marked improvement in your experience in the eye clinic as steps have been taken to try to ensure quality service is provided.

St. Cloud VA Medical Center - Barry Venable: The St. Cloud Homeless Housing Initiative is still in the Request-for-Proposal stage and they hope to see that proposal within the next week or so. Upcoming events: September 18, Camp Ripley is holding an open house and Welcome Home Vietnam Vets ceremony. In October, the 20th annual physically-disabled deer hunt will be held at Camp Ripley. November 6 at 1 p.m., St. Cloud Area Veterans Day Parade. Deadline for parade entries is October 7. Mr. Venable has contact info for parade organizer Kelly Olson. A handout was provided listing four dates and places where the film "Going Blind" will be shown. This is to increase awareness of low vision and blindness. A question was asked about transferring care from St. Cloud to the Ramsey CBOC and the number to call regarding that will be provided to Ralph and put in the minutes.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Artis Parker, Acting Director: During August, Ft. Snelling hosted cemetery caretaker training to 30 of the 800 caretakers in the 131-cemetery system. In August there were 471 interments, with 167 of those casket burials, 233 cremations and 71 columbarium. A memorial wall is expected to begin to be constructed within the next 3 to 6 months. This would provide an alternative to a headstone for remains that are either scattered, donated or not found. Total casket burials to date, 153,106; cremations, 40,728; columbarium, 2,784; total burials, 196,618. There are 1,567 female veterans buried at Ft. Snelling, with 16 buried in August. The Rifle Squad is funded completely through donations. They honored 241 veterans in August for a total of 58,908 since their inception in 1979. They are about 90 days from completion of their irrigation system upgrade. The Medallion Benefit Program was explained. This provides for a 3 1/2-inch medallion that can be affixed to a veteran's headstone in a private cemetery identifying them as a vet.

Vets Employment & Training Service (VETS) - Gary Quernemoen: The VIP, Veterans in Piping, program was explained. Starting November 7, 20 veterans will be trained through the Pipefitters union at no charge. This is a 20-week program and upon completion the vet starts a 5-year apprenticeship. A handout was provided listing Harry Farris of Thief River falls as the contact person. His phone number: 218-681-0909. Harry.Farris@state.mn.us. The goal is to eventually have 2 to 3 classes a year, starting in the metro area and eventually in rural MN. A veteran is guaranteed a job if they are willing to relocate nationwide as there are more openings than applicants.

Vet Center - Carl Sporer: Not present

UnitedHealth Group - Chuck Officer: Working with large organizations such as the VA, DoD, Kaiser-Permanente, UnitedHealth Group is trying to improve health care and this collaboration of efforts and ideas was discussed. The "Fee for Service" model seems to be an impediment to improving health care, and pilots and experiments are being done to try to lower the cost of health care. An example was given of paying an oncologist up front for services, rather than there somehow being an incentive to prescribe expensive drugs.

PVA - Lawrence: The PVA donated $150,000 to the VAMC toward the construction of a picnic pavilion and the American Legion donated $30,000 toward the sport court. Ribbon cutting for these will be September 30 at 10 a.m. with cake and punch provided.

2. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Not present

Senator Al Franken - Nate Arch: Secretary Shinseki's visit was discussed. Senator Franken's staff has been traveling around the state listening to veterans, and a bill will be introduced shortly regarding veterans access. Women veteran issues, employment issues and access to VA will be what they will be focusing on in the coming months. A handout was available which had Senator Franken's remarks to the American Legion National Convention.

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

1st District Representative Tim Walz - Shawn Schloesser: Not present

2nd District Representative John Kline - Chaz Johnson: Veterans unemployment nationally is around 23 percent. September 19 Rep Kline is holding a Career and Jobs Fair at the Eagan Community Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be around 85 companies at this event. September 17 a Service Academy will be held from 9 a.m. to noon. Rep Kline was at the State Fair doing a number of radio shows. The Lost Heroes Quilt which was at the fair was discussed.

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

4th District Representative Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland: Rep McCollum will be heading back to D.C. and monitoring the status of the conference committee that has the appropriations bill for Mil Con VA. She met Secretary Shinseki at the State Fair. The bill regarding the DoD maintaining records as they relate to sexual trauma was discussed. On September 13 in Bloomington, an Academy will be held jointly with Congressmen Paulson and Ellison's offices.

5th District Representative Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler: Not present

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann - Rachel Horn: HR 1154, the service dogs bill, is scheduled for markup hopefully this week. After the markup, they expect the bill to be attached to HR 198, which is essentially the same thing. The Senate companion Bill is 769. Rep Bachmann spoke to the American Legion convention. Nicole is the contact person for Academy night. They expect to have their info ready for that the end of September or early October. Ms. Bachmann and her staff spent time with the folks involved with the USS Minnesota, the new submarine being commissioned by the Navy. There is a logo-naming contest open to K-12 students.

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack: Not present

3. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Veterans 2011 Legislative Info - Mike McElhiney: Mike shared info left for him by the Veterans Homes' Senior Director to pass on: Kari Everson is the new administrator of the Hastings Veterans Home. They are looking at long-range plans to evolve that home to accommodate the new OIF/OEF veterans. The new 100-bed facility is on schedule at the Minneapolis Home. Fergus Falls, construction was delayed due to the government shutdown. Silvery Bay, an entire wing is being revamped and the opening for that is yet to be determined. The Luverne project is ongoing. An award was just received for Best in Class for the upkeep, quality and service at the Veterans Homes. Fergus Falls, 21-bed specialty unit is scheduled to open September 23 and all are invited. The CTF conference which is hosted annually by the MDVA is scheduled for September 19 and 20. The agenda will be available by the 14th. After lunch, the second half of the day on the 19th is open to anyone at the UVLC to come by and meet the new commanders. "Reform 2.0" is going on in the legislature currently. It's designed to ensure that the original intent of a bill or legislation is achieved. The Women Veterans Summit will be October 29. The focus is on empowering women veterans. This metro site is yet to be determined.

MN Military Affairs - Lt. Col. Sandy Best: Annette Kuyper asked Lt. Col Best to pass along Yellow Ribbon news. By the middle of next month, 68 entities, either individually or as a group, will be Yellow Ribbon. There are 49 cities, 15 companies and 7 counties. The next Yellow Ribbon proclamation ceremony will be September 16 at 3 p.m. at Martin Luther College in New Ulm. Col. Eric Ahlness is deploying as the agribusiness development team commander. The deployment ceremony will be September 30 at 3 p.m. at the Cedar Street Armory in St. Paul. Col. Ahlness, along with 57 soldiers, will be deploying to Zabul, Afghanistan. There are 3,021 MN National Guard members currently deployed to several locations. General Nash is putting together a Senior Advisory Task Force, in coordination with the Secretary of State, and that was discussed.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Kathy Vitalis: Ms. Vitalis talked about the very successful Metro Stand Down that was conducted last month. There were over 830 veterans there during the 2-day event. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Metro Stand Down, and Ms. Vitalis would like this to be extra special. Also, the Duluth Stand Down was held in the Depot. The next Stand Downs are: Grand Rapids, September 28; Bemidji, September 29; Rochester, October 4; and Mankato, November 8. Durbin Keeney, Regional Director of MACV Duluth is stepping down as of Monday and Steve Saari will be taking over. Durbin will be doing some projects part-time. MACV hosted the national American Legion at Building 47 and took them on a tour of one of the transitional-housing homes in Minneapolis. This event was catered by Hotel Sofitel. A picnic was held for the neighbors of the Maplewood transitional home to allow them to get any questions answered, etc., with future similar events planned for other homes so the neighbors can get over the "Not in my backyard" feeling some may have. The 4th annual MACV benefit will be held September 23 at the Officers' Club beginning at 6 p.m with a silent auction and reception and dinner at 7:30 p.m. followed by live music.

Ft. Snelling Military Museum - Tom Boland: The museum has been ordered to shut down its vehicle load. They had 82 vehicles, 5 bays in the motor pool to rehab and recondition WWII vehicles. The vehicles will be sent to other museums. Letters of support are needed from the veterans organizations and others who think this museum is of benefit.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser: Mr. Kyser gave an overview of the Mn/DOT issue that MAG has been involved with as far as veteran-owned businesses bidding on State contracts. Great inroads have been made in this effort and the hope is to get this matter resolved in the next session. September 16, 17 and 18 is the 2011 Festival of Tribute and Honor for all uniformed services, including firefighters, police officers, EMTs, etc., tied into 9/11. This will include a parade and flyover. On September 18, in conjunction with this event, will be POW/MIA Day at the State Capitol. The DoD is bringing in 240 ex-POWS from across the nation, as well as 30 Medal of Honor recipients. The next Honor Flight is October 8 at 10:30, Terminal 2.

Veteran Justice Corps - Brad Bourn: They are a federally-funded program for veterans service organizations that work with veterans who are either involved with, or at risk for being involved with the criminal justice system. They are looking for partners through the RFP process. They are looking for organizations that work with veterans to obtain housing, employment, etc. September 12 is the deadline for the RFP. You can get info and application packets through their host organization, Council on Crime and Justice, at www.crimeandjustice.org. If you send Mr. Bourn an e-mail through the website indicating you just heard about the opportunity, he can extend the deadline by a few days.

Announcements

The Armed Forces Service Center is always looking for volunteers. Preston, MN is going to donate about 100 acres toward a veterans cemetery. Historically, there's been a problem with locating cemeteries in Southern MN due to the high water table. Efforts are being made to find a suitable location for a cemetery in the Duluth-Cloquet area. There are two more Retiree Appreciation Days. The next one is September 9 at Black Bear Casino, followed by one on September 24 at Mystic Lake. Ralph finally mentioned he ran into a veteran whose son is leaving for Iraq. This man was upset and it's important to sometimes be an ear and allow others to just vent.

Meeting adjourned at 11:40 a.m.

Next Meeting will be 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Business Meeting at 11:50 a.m.

Treasurer's Report: Balance as of August 1, 2011, $5,232.04; no deposits; parking expense, $29.75; ending balance as of September 1, 2011, $5,202.29.

Old Business: None

New Business: Ralph Donais brought up that with the fall MAG, CTF and UVLC meetings dealing with legislative issues, it is important to have issues from UVLC members that they would like to see addressed at the state legislature. The positive outcome regarding extending the widow/widowers' homestead property tax waiver issue was brought up.

Nick Kakos asked about the final status of the bill offsetting retiree pay. Ralph Donais responded there were several bills in both the House and Senate to tax exempt military retirees' pay. The Senate put it for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill, but none of them ever made it into the House omnibus bill. Ralph has been working on this issue for ten years. He's tried to impress upon the legislature this bill would actually bring money into the state.

Bob Erickson mentioned Senator Bakk will not be running for reelection.

Allen Elsbury asked about the charitable gambling bill. Jerry Kyser responded that is in its infancy.

Nick Kakos made a motion thanking Ralph Donais for his tremendous effort regarding the tax-exempt retiree benefits issue in not only making presentations, but the research/homework involved in accomplishing this. Bob Erickson seconded. Motion passed.

Charitable gambling was discussed. They must be spent in the community in which it was raised. Money cannot be given to an individual for, say, a scholarship, but it can be given to an educational institution to be used for scholarships.

Bob Erickson posed the question as to if veterans organizations had any input into the veterans area at the fair in the agricultural building. The roof leaks and is rusted. Also, there is no signage identifying veterans are set up there. Ralph, not making any promises, said he would attempt to contact someone on the fair board. Kathy Vitalis said she could get a paint donation and volunteers with state fair oversight, taking away any barrier they may have about updating the site.

For the good of the order: It was suggested that future e-mails go out as blind copies to protect privacy.

Motion and second to adjourn. Motion passed.

Meeting adjourned at 12:05 p.m.