Meeting Minutes for January, 2012

Minutes Header

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Call to Order at 9:35 a.m.  

Invocation and Pledge of Allegiance 

Greetings; Recognition of visitors and guests:  Sgt. Major Kallberg was introduced, as well as NERA President Roger Jacobson and DAV State Commander David Valtinson.  

1.  Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators 
Senator Amy Klobuchar - Greg Swanholm:  Their office has been working on the rifles for the Ft. Snelling Rifle Squad issue.  They did confer with the Army and it sounds like as of right now they are not trying to replace any Springfields with M-1 Garands, although they are still holding to the 15-rifle limit versus the 45 or so that are currently held.  They will continue to look into this matter.  The Senator's Sexual Assault Bill was signed by the president.

Senator Al Franken - Nate Arch:  Not present 

7th District Representative Collin Peterson - Al Loehr:  The Tuition Assistance Policy Change that was to take effect January 1 has been put on hold by Defense Secretary Panetta until March 12, 2012.  Mr. Loehr spoke to a member of the House Veterans Affairs committee and they were not responsive as to what they're looking at for the new session of Congress.  They hope to have something more concrete at the next meeting.  

1st District Representative Tim Walz - Shawn Schloesser:    Not present but asked that the following highlights be included in the minutes.  They nominated 12 candidates for Service Academies.  Rep Walz continues to advocate for HR 1148, Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), and encouraged the House leadership to bring it to a vote.  MN delegation cosponsors include Reps Ellison, McCollum, Paulson and Peterson, so even in MN it has bipartisan support.  Rep Walz with Rep Owens (D-NY) and Rep Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced legislation to expand job protection for members of our Armed Forces.  HR 3670 requires the TSA to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  USERRA guarantees that employees in both the public and private sectors who are called to active duty can keep their jobs when they come home.  TSA says it complies with USERRA voluntarily; however the Aviation and Transportation Security Act barred TSA from USERRA coverage.  

2nd District Representative John Kline - Chaz Johnson:  Their office was contacted in early December about the Rifle Squad issue, filed an inquiry, and are considering legislative action.  It sounds like a big "bureaucratic mess."  Rep Kline was one of the conferees of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to ensure that the Yellow Ribbon Program will continue to expand at a national level.  He was one of 12 individuals in the House of Representatives who had a perfect attendance voting record.  

3rd District Representative Eric Paulson - John Paul Yates:  Their office has also been working on the rifle issue.  Academy interviews were conducted last month.  Nominees have not yet been submitted.  Rep Paulson will be hosting a Veterans Advisory Meeting probably at the end of February.  If you are from the district and would be interested in participating, please contact Mr. Yates.  

4th District Representative Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland:  Nominations have been made to the Service Academies.  A number of individuals have received letters of assurance already so they anticipate them receiving their offers.  Regarding Rep McCollum's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on House Appropriations, the president did sign the omnibus appropriations bill in December and the levels of funding were much the same as that passed by the full House.  Within the purview of that committee is the funding of the National Cemeteries.  In the last week, the Arlington National Cemetery Gravesite Accountability Task Force report came out.  As you know, a number of officials at that cemetery were replaced with key and very experienced Dept of Veterans Affairs cemetery administration officials who came in to try to correct what had been occurring there.  This report is pointed out to show how seriously the matter is being taken and also to mention it's interesting as far as its historical content.  

Jerry Kyser asked a question about the administration wanting to have another initiative to help veterans get jobs.  This would involve another organization trying to pick up helping veterans find jobs.  Ms. Haddeland responded by saying there were three or four initiatives that were announced during the week of Veterans Day.  Most of them were under the Dept of Labor jointly with the VA and SBA.  This information is detailed in a handout back at her office and Ms. Haddeland said she will provide that to Mr. Kyser.  

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

6th District Representative Michele Bachmann
- Rachel Horn:  There is no new legislation in the office.  They are still pushing items they were working on previously, such as the service dog issue, and are picking up cosponsors.  They are attending two deployments this month.  Ms. Horn attended a return a few weeks ago for the Civil Engineering Squadron.  They were also at Wreaths Across America.  

8th District Representative Chip Cravaack - Brian Gordon:  HR 3220, which was introduced by Rep Cravaack, passed the House.  This would designate the United States Postal Service facility located in Pine City, MN to be named the "Master Sergeant Daniel L. Fedder Post Office."  Master Sgt. Fedder was 34 years old at the time of his death, a 16-year veteran of the Marine Corps.  Yesterday President Obama signed HR 1801, Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act, which Rep Cravaack introduced.  This legislation would require the TSA to develop a separate screening process for military personnel flying on civilian aircraft.  Mike Colalillo of Duluth, the last Medal of Honor recipient of MN, passed away on December 30, 2011.  The funeral will be this Saturday in Duluth.  

2.  State Agencies and MN Veterans Assistance Organizations 

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie:  The traveling copy of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights will be in St. Paul April 3 to July 4.  They are in the middle of a four-year program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War and MN's involvement in that.  He will bring a document that task force is putting together to next month's meeting.  

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

MN Veterans 2012 Legislative Info - Mike McElhiney:  There are policy initiatives that are being worked, but they are still not public information other than the ones the Governor has announced such as the Honor Guard funding, which he supports, as well as expanding the MN GI Bill.  Senator Senjem has taken the place of Amy Koch as Senate Majority Leader.  Veterans Day on the Hill is scheduled for February 15 in the rotunda from 9 to 10 a.m.  The schedule of events will be very similar to last year.  Mr. McElhiney asked the UVLC to lead the pledge for that program.  The session starts on January 24 and is scheduled to go until April 30.  A question was asked about how the veterans homes are doing.  Mr. McElhiney indicated there is really nothing to report.  Deputy Commissioner Pam Barrows mentioned yesterday in a staff meeting how happy and supportive the families of the residents are.  

MN Military Affairs - Sgt. Major Cynthia Kallberg and Annette Kuyper:  Sgt. Major Kallberg indicated she is the new Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Minnesota National Guard.  Specifically, she is the advisor to the Adjutant General.  Part of her duties will be soldier and airman care, so she will be looking at things like suicide prevention and resiliency and employment for soldiers and veterans.  There will be a return ceremony on Saturday at 4:30 in St. Cloud at the River's Edge Convention Center welcoming home B 2-211.  

Annette Kuyper stated there has been a commitment from all 62 armory and air base communities across MN to form Yellow Ribbon networks.  The next proclamation by the governor will be March 30 in Lakeville at Trinity Evangelical Church at 3 p.m.  All are invited to attend.  This is a wonderful network south of the river with all the Scott County communities.  It is hoped that Burnsville, Apple Valley and even Dakota County will be ready by that time as well.  There is now a Yellow Ribbon Company Program and Best Buy, Metro Transit and the Minneapolis Border Patrol Hiring Center have been recognized.  In two weeks, USBank will be recognized.  

A question was asked about the high suicide rate in Minnesota.  Sgt. Major Kallberg responded by saying strictly speaking in numbers, that is correct.  The suicide rate is high in Minnesota, not just in military personnel.  This may be in part a sign of how things are in the communities.  This is taken very seriously, which is why this is a focus of hers, as well as that of the Adjutant General.  To that end, resiliency is something they are really trying to build into their soldiers so that people can deal with these life issues that arise.  The Minnesota National Guard keeps records of suicides using a slightly different set of criteria, which is why their rates may appear higher.  

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Kathy Vitalis:  They had their three regional holiday get-togethers.  January is a reporting month, end of MACV's fiscal year.  It has a lot of quarter grant reports.  The first quarter on the new VASSVF grant has a big report going in.  They are right on track with the number of veterans they are serving.  That grant has allowed them to increase their outreach.  They will continue to follow the legislature and seek to get as much funding as they can from the state.  The Metro Stand Down will be August 1 and 2 at the Boy Scout Base Camp.  They are always looking for coordination of breakfasts, etc., if you would like to participate.  Ms. Vitalis was honored to visit with Mike Calillio in his home last year when some congressional people came in from D.C.  His family has asked that memorials be given to MACV.  Stan Kowalski is looking for a ride to Mr. Calillio's funeral on Saturday.  Sgt. Major Kallberg will not be dancing with the Twin Cities celebrities, as Ms. Vitalis stated last month.  It is Christine Clayburg, who is also with the Guard.  That fundraiser will be held February 25 at the Hilton at 6 p.m.  If you want to support this fundraiser, you can do so via MACV's website.  You may also buy tickets to go.  Anything Ms. Clayburg raises will be coming to MACV.  

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser:  Senator Daley of Eagan is the Chair, along with Rep Dettmer of the House.  St. Paul Rep John Lesch is the DFL part of it.  Senator Perry, one of the leaders in the Senate Veterans Committee, along with Rep Anderson, who is going to head up the House Veterans Committee, are all part of the MAG.  The goal of MAG is to get the right kind of legislation to facilitate making Minnesota more veteran friendly and having the people who make the laws right there is a great way to do it.  One issue that was brought up was the check box for new business enterprises to indicate if they are potentially a veteran-owned business.  Additionally, they are working with the House to change the transportation bill to ensure veteran-owned businesses have parity with the disadvantaged business enterprises to bid on government contracts.  The next MAG meeting is on January 20 at 9 a.m. at 300N at the State Office Building.  

Ralph Donais mentioned to the House and Senate representatives in attendance that he is working on getting data pertaining to the 179-day active duty National Guard situation.  When they don't reach the 180-day mark, they are not considered a "veteran" with all of the benefits that go with that status.  Mr. Donais requested they go back to their offices and put pressure in D.C. to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, etc., to get that data to them so some decisions can be made on that.  

3.  Federal Agencies 

VA Regional Office - Director Antione Waller:  Mr. Waller introduced Ron Woolery.  He has the newly-created position of Change Management Agent.  This is a position which is nationwide across all the ROs.   

Mr. Woolery gave a brief bio.  One of his biggest responsibilities is communicating the changes that are coming out in the VA.  They are going to speed the process and make sure the veteran gets a quality product the first time.  One initiative has been already rolled out because St. Paul was a test site and it's a rating redesign.  Rating Decisions are simplied so they are not as confusing.  The other initiative being rolled out in the next month is a Quality Review Team.  The goal is to achieve the Secretary's goal of 98 percent quality.  Six more initiatives will be rolled out through the process.  If you have questions, you may call Mr. Woolery at 612-713-6310.  

VISN 23 - Steve Julius, M.D.:  Dr. Julius is the Chief Medical Officer for VISN 23.  As a network, VISN 23 continues to grow.  As shown on the handout, there has been an increase in veterans treated from 2008 to 2011.  The annual budget has also increased from $1.84 Billion in 2008 to $2.41 Billion in 2011.  In 2012, there is essentially a flat budget with like a .1 percent increase, with FY13 also flat or potentially a small reduction.  Pharmacy costs are a large expense and continue to climb.  One big-ticket item is two new drugs to treat the Hepatitis C virus.  There are about 3,200 patients in the VISN with the Hepatitis C virus, genotype 1, which is the subset of this virus that responds well to these new drugs.  These new drugs, in combination with the drugs these veterans were already taking, provides a cure rate that was previously 20 to 30 percent to as high as 80 percent.  Another highlight, they have been the first VISN to start a Tele-ICU program.  There are eight medical centers, some in highly rural areas, spread throughout the network.  In some of the smaller areas they have ICUs and it's often hard to have the appropriate critical-care-trained physicians available to treat them.  The Tele-ICU allows a second set of eyes.  It is located at the Minneapolis VA HCS where intensivists are available 24 hours a day and monitor the ICU beds at the other facilities and can assist the people at those facilities in the care and treatment of these patients.  Finally, as a network VISN 23 is growing, but in western South Dakota it is now growing.  Town Hall meetings are being held and proposed realignment of services are being introduced.  The Acting Director at the Minneapolis VAHCS is Barry Sharp who is the Director at the Iowa City VAHCS.  He will be the Acting Director as long as is takes to fill that position.  Also, Associate Director Marcy Mylan (sp) was selected as the Director at the Omaha facility so that position needs to be filled as well. 

VAHCS Minneapolis:  Not present

VAHCS St. Cloud - Director Barry Bahl:  Things are busy at the St. Cloud VAHCS.  Over the holidays, 144 of 145 beds were filled, probably the highest census ever.  They also get many veterans and National Guard personnel who are considering suicide that are brought in and stabilized, so people do know how to access the system.  Appreciation was expressed to the veterans organizations for their support throughout the year and especially at Christmastime.  Construction continues.  One big project is construction is just starting on Building 49, the nursing home building.  The nursing home is also running near capacity with 220 of 225 beds filled.  A Fidelity Review was recently done.  It's a review of all the VAs that have Supportive Employment Programs.  The St. Cloud VAHCS is considered one of the best programs in the nation and is used as an example for other facilities.  This program is a three-pronged approach working with medical and chemical-addiction needs, finding participants places to live, and then taking care of their emotional and educational needs to ultimately get them a job. 

Ralph Donais had two questions for Mr. Bahl from the Facebook page:  Q:  What is the date for the Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week?   A:  It's usually around Valentine's Day and Mr. Bahl will provide the exact date soon.  Q:  Will there be special programs that week for women veterans?  A:  They are putting together a program right now.  Mr. Bahl is not sure if it will be that same week or a separate time but will provide that information. 

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Acting Director Artis Parker:  2011 was a busy and productive year at the cemetery.  The irrigation upgrade was completed.  Turf renovation was done in some of the older sections.  Also, raise and realignment of some of the headstones was accomplished.  There are 157,000 headstones and markers at the cemetery.  Each year they try to do a percentage of those headstones with the intent to touch every headstone within 5 to 7 years.  The contract for the Memorial Wall was awarded on December 27 and construction will commence in the coming months.  This wall will be for memorialization of veterans whose remains have been scattered, buried at sea, or are unrecoverable.  December 2011 stats:  Total interments, 359.  Caskets, 164; cremations, 152; columbarium, 43.  Total interments year to date, 1,224.  Caskets, 505; cremations, 564; columbarium, 155.  Total interments at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery, 197,794.  Currently the cremation rate is about 35 percent; however in the summer months that rate goes up to 50 percent.  That increased rate allows the burial life at the cemeteries to increase.  Ft. Snelling is situated on 435 acres with 96 acres remaining that can be developed.  In the last 32 years, the Rifle Squad has provided a final salute to over 59,000 veterans.  It is impressive that with the advanced age of the average member of the Rifle Squad, they have never missed an interment.  The issue regarding restricting the number of rifles the Dept of the Army provides to the Rifle Squad was discussed.  According to Title 10, any one organization can have no more than 15 ceremonial rifles and the Army is saying they need to be in compliance with the law.  Ft. Snelling Cemetery, in conjunction with other federal agencies and the Rifle Squad, is working with the Dept of the Army to make sure they are in compliance with the spirit of the law without losing site of their mission to honor veterans.  One consideration presented to the Dept of Army is the Rifle Squad has five independent squads, which may constitute five separate organizations.  On December 10, Wreaths Across America was held.  More than 450 visitors assisted in placing over 1,900 wreaths on the gravesites.  The Burial Allowance for veterans interred in a private cemetery has increased from $300 to $700. 

Vets Employment & Training Service (VETS):  Not present

Vet Center - Carl Sporer:  Not present

Announcements:  Ralph Donais mentioned the Armed Forces Service Center website was overwhelmed after several media outlets showed it recently.  That center, the Rifle Squad, Yellow Ribbon, etc., run on volunteers and you are encouraged to consider participating in this capacity and bringing along your memberships and/or employees to do so.   Also, the UVLC is now on Twitter (@mnuvlc) and Facebook (United Veterans Legislative Council).  If he sends you something and your computer has spam control and won't let you open it, please notify Ralph so he can send you the message in a different format.  Dean Ascheman has been trying to update the rosters.  These will be done by the next meeting. 

Jerry Kyser said he just gave the $5,000 down payment for the next Honor Flight to Sun Country Airlines.  Since several areas are no longer doing Honor Flights, Jerry has expanded the Metro catchment area to 50 or 60 miles out.  As far as his calculations, there are another 2,000 WWII veterans within this area who have yet to take their Honor Flights.  He will continue these until he can no longer get 100 WWII veterans on an aircraft twice a year. 

Meeting adjourned at 10:53 a.m. followed by a short recess.

Business Meeting commenced at 11:02 a.m. 

Old Business:

Treasurer's Report:   Balance as of December 1, 2011, $4,706.93.  Ending balance as of January 1, 2012, $4,875.20.  Deposits, $650.  This is for dues for 2012.  Expenses, $481.73.  Eleven of the 29 organizations that pay dues have already paid.  They are:  American Ex-POWs, Blinded Veterans Association, Marine Corps League, MN National Guard Enlisted Association, MACV, MN Vietnam Veterans Charity, MN PVA, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses, The Retired Enlisted Association, US Submarine Veterans of MN, and VFW. 

Ralph Donais stated he only received one or two replies as to what your organization feels are the most important items of legislative concern.  Your ideas are needed so they can be pooled with his and Jerry's to come to a consensus as to what needs to be conveyed to the legislature for this coming session.  Please e-mail Ralph with your ideas by the end of the week so a brochure can be completed for distribution at the MAG meeting on January 20. 

The list is as follows:  1.  To extend the widow homestead tax exemption past five years.  2.  Second-Career Military Tax Exemption.  3.  Certification of MOS for Civilian Job Licenses.  4.  Veterans Preference.  5.  Veterans "check" on Secretary of State Business Application.  6.  Change HF 1068 which deals with contracts for veteran-owned businesses.  7.  Title 49, Transportation Bill discussion, the need to have DBE for veterans separated.  8.  Continued Support for MACV.  9.  Collaboration of Military, State, Federal and Private Organizations that are working on employment opportunities and new businesses for veterans.  10.  Presumptive Certificate of Rehabilitation for Military Veterans.  11.  Charitable Gambling

Dean Ascheman asked if the UVLC was synchronizing with the CTF on the legislative list.  Ralph responded that he tried to but has received no feedback from the CTF.  Dean said the CTF has tried to make it a point the UVLC is included in the legislative and Ralph said he will be at the CTF meeting today. 

Jerry Kyser state the only other addition to the list would be license plates for female veterans.  Lawrence Dean spoke in opposition to these plates stating he thinks female veterans don't want to be "segregated" in that manner but considered "equal."  Ralph stated he'd heard some of the female vets did not want these plates as it would alert the public to the fact they may be a single female.  It was suggested that Trista, who initiated this proposal, be contacted to get her insight into this issue and Jerry Kyser will follow up with that. 

It was suggested it seems unnecessary to have the various vet license plates that are currently available beyond the "Support our Troops" plate.  Dean mentioned that some of the major organizations start losing their identity as you start fragmenting with all the plates and, also, it could go on and on with the various interests.  Ralph mentioned maybe a small insignia could be affixed to the already-existing license plate to recognize it is a female vet.  Only the "Support our Troops" plate channels funds to the MN DVA; the rest of the plates, the money goes directly to the State of MN. 

Ralph said as regards the widows/widows exemption, he thinks that should become permanent, not just go for five years, to make it more financially feasible for them to remain in their homes until it is their choice to sell them.  Second career, Ralph has the data on that regarding how many millions of dollars MN is losing by taxing the second-career folks who refuse to live in MN.  As regards Veterans Preference, a big issue is that what's already on the books is not being enforced.  Part of HF 1068, the bill said they "may" give out contracts.  That needs to be changed to "shall." 

The issue regarding making it easier for EMTs, nurses, etc., coming out of the military to get certified has been an ongoing battle.  Ralph has been told that the unions may push back against this, especially when it comes to, say, truck drivers carrying haz/mat because they want people to go through the union training program.  Someone proposed a contrary view, that unions are actually looking for dues-paying members and the bricklayers, for example, have a short course or you may test out with prior experience. 

Presumptive Certificate of Rehabilitation was brought up at the end of the 2011 session and kind of got buried under other issues.  They will attempt to submit the bill again this year.  Bob Connor mentioned Senator Lindner of Maple Grove held that up and it would be prudent to reach out to this Senator and also bring along some of his own constituents.  This bill allows for removing minor offenses from a veteran's record after honorable discharge from the military so that vet is eligible for certain licensures.  The vet is presumed to have become rehabilitated after their honorable service.  Jerry mentioned it's important to not overstep the bounds of their 501(c)(3) status and give the appearance of being a lobbyist. 

New Business:

Ralph asked for volunteers to review the bylaws and give input as to any changes they deem appropriate.  Dean Ascheman, Lawrence Dean, Bob Smith and Irv Blumberg volunteered. 

Julie mentioned Gil Acevedo should be honored and recognized for his work in elevating the status of the nursing homes.  Ralph replied that that effort is being undertaken.  Jerry's wife is preparing a certificate and it will be available at the next UVLC meeting for everyone to sign.  Julie said Pam Barrows will provide bio info to be included for when the certificate is presented to Mr. Acevedo. 

Ralph mentioned his VFW Post is going to be one of the first in the state that will have a Wii system installed.  Younger veterans play a popular game in Iraq and Afghanistan and they will be able to continue their play and compete with this Wii system.  Half the winnings go to the Post to help pay for the equipment and the other half goes to the winner. 

Motion to adjourn by Al Loehr, second by Jerry Nalipinski.  Motion carried.

Meeting adjourned at 11:30 a.m. 

Next UVLC meeting will be Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 0930, Bldg 9