Meeting Minutes for October, 2012

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UVLC Minutes–Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prayer
Pledge of Allegiance
Introduction of new attendees:
DAB - Vertachnick.
Carlton County, the new President of the County Veterans Service Office
Representative Michelle Bachman (Assistant Jessica Boss also present):

  • Very important, we are in a blessed country and right now we are in the midst of the election on TV and it’s all about division, division, division. When I look at our military, it is about unity, unity, unity. One of the rules of warfare is united you stand. You have got to stand united. We have to be a united world.
  • I am very privileged to sit on the intelligence committee. We are a very small committee, a tiny committee as a matter of fact. I will be the only woman on the Republican side. There are only twelve of us and we deal with the classified secrets of the nation. It is a small committee for a reason because it is the classified secrets and all of the threats that there are across the world. And as we have seen the results in this last month of what is going on in Cairo with losing four innocent Americans, one being our Ambassador and with thirty-three different Embassy’s in the world under attack, there is something afoot and it’s our militaries that’s the front line.
  • Last week I was in my office in Woodbury and we had a wonderful group from the POWs come in and we had a wonderful time together talking; really just about Vietnam and some of the concerns about our MIAs that are still left unaddressed with Vietnam. This is something we can never, ever forget. In all the time I have been in Congress, I have flown the MIA flag from our office because we can never forget the sacrifice that they make for us. I appreciate that and I appreciate all of you who served us as well.
  • While I am a member of Congress from the 6th District Minnesota, I am extremely proud of what the veterans in our district have done. And most recently, I have just returned from Afghanistan; I went on a tour. We have a lot; a very high number 6th District personnel serving us both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We have a very high National Guard presence as you know. The day that I was there, I was at Camp Leatherneck the woman who came in to be in charge of all the nurses was from Elk River, Minnesota and she was going to run the whole operation. And I had just come from the hospital where the fellow who was running the entire hospital; it’s the number one surgery hospital in the world, and he was a surgeon from Woodbury, Minnesota. So the 6th District of Minnesota is ruling in Afghanistan and we are extremely proud of them and what they are doing. It’s just a beautiful group of people that are over there. I have been over for Christmas with our troops. I have been over for the Fourth of July to meet with our troops, and many other times. And we can be extremely proud of every one of them that are serving.
  • I also was very proud to be able to play a key role to bring Ramsey Vets Clinic. If you have not been up to see the Ramsey Vets Clinic it’s a beautiful new facility and it’s close to where the NorthStar Train is. But we are going to have hundreds and hundreds of doctors who are going to cycle through for our veterans. We had a controversy about where that would be located but it’s in exactly the right place because there are a very high number of veterans that live in that part of Minnesota.
  • One other thing that I am really pleased about is the work we are doing with mental illness for our veterans. Those that have post-traumatic stress and all of the other depression concerns those veterans have. We are doing so much more than we were able to do before. We are also able to use Skype now so we are able to use the best people connected with our veterans so it is as convenient as it can possibly be. Also, I know we have some representatives from our disabled veterans here and I thank you for being here.
  • When I was in the Minnesota state Senate there was a movement by some radical environmentalists to shut down our only disability campus; we were able to save that campus permanently. Go out and see this campus. Our veterans can rent cabins. There is a lake and boats and fishing. It is just wonderful so if you haven’t been out there yet today is a good day to go and a good excuse to go up and visit that camp.
  • I also have a very strong record of voting for our veterans in congress and am proud to vote for the final post 9/11 GI bill that extends educational opportunities not only to veterans but also to their families. I also voted for the veteran’s healthcare budget reform and transparency act that gave advanced funding for veterans benefits. Some of our veterans who need and rely on dogs and that’s what this bill does; it allows them to take their service dogs with them when they go into the VA.
  • I also introduced the Military Healthcare Affordability Act that keeps down Tricare fees for our retirees. They are very vulnerable on what they can afford and I want to able to ensure we keep their fees down.
  • I was also very proud to vote against sequestration which is coming up again soon. Veterans are not included in the sequestration, but as you know when you open the doors, anything is possible. If there are any attempts to cut veterans benefits I will be there with my colleagues from Minnesota, and we will be standing against those cuts. It has been my highest honor to be able to stand up for veterans because they stood up for us and that’s the least we can do is stand for you.

Question regarding a 15 day disclosure after the capture of Osama Bin laden so military can round up other Al Qaeda members.
Answer: Intelligence information in nationally classified. Cannot confirm or deny.
Question: Email received that Marine Airbase was attacked; lost 6 jets and several Marines killed but there was nothing in the news about it. Can you confirm this happened? There are concerns that this is a huge financial loss for the jets alone.
Answer:  When in Afghanistan I sat in a plane from the 1950’s. It is important that we have best equipment. I am extremely angry that our troops are getting their legs blown off from IEDs and we know where these are being produced, there are several compounds in Afghanistan. There is no reason we should not go in and take it out, we should take it out, but there is a lack of political will. We lose on average 5 guys a day, casualties, When it comes to the military we should be bipartisan as is the military committee I am a part of. Democrats and Republicans both are upset at the lack of political will to get rid of these facilities producing IEDs. We are also upset about intelligence leaks which there are a lot of right now. The leaks cannot happen because they put the military men and women at risk. We do have problems but the replacement of planes and jets is vitally important.
Question: The housing construction grant for the VA is being reduced significantly. The homes not only in MN but also across the nation depend on that construction grant to meet the needs. Not a question but a point, the VA cannot reduce those construction programs. When you do that, you injure the state of being able to build new homes and give that support.
Answer: Keep talking to us about it. Nicole Severson is my staff member that I have here we have a wide open door so please let us know that. It is so valuable to me to come talk to people because that puts things on my radar so I know what to look for and what we need to protect, so I thank you for that.
Question: Tricare copay for retirees is supposed to be 25% and it is currently 55%. Is that being addressed?
Answer: It is not currently being addressed. I can’t tell you if it will be addressed in the lamedoc or after the first of the year. I am sure without a doubt that it will be addressed.
Announcements:       

  • 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; reading of names starts November 7th – 1,000 Volunteers needed to read the 58,272 names
    • Ceremony will include 21 gun salute
    • Drawing of the Bell of Honor (which will toll from the 10th to the last name read), The bells first six tolls are to honor those who responded, served, protected, sacrificed and suffered. The seventh toll signifies the loss of life, the voice of the grateful nation who wishes to celebrate the sanctity and remember the special life passed from our sight but never forgotten from our heart. Bell of honor located in Rochester - event November 7th to 11th.
    • Donations sought to defray the cost of transporting the Bell of Honor to Washington DC. Website asking any Veteran’s Service Organizations to donate www.thebellofhonor.org.
  • Julie - Special thank you to Ralph Donais for always being reliable and available to answer questions.
  • Honor Flight returns, want someone there from organization. Hubert Humphrey Terminal 2 at 10:15 at the latest Saturday October 6th.
  • Celebration of Freedom November 3rd for WWII veterans 11:30 registration. Sending out to all veterans service organizations. Opening ceremony starts at noon. Concert at 1:45pm ending at 4pm.

Secretary of State -

  • There is always cake at return flights. Further encouragement to attend.
  • Military systems making great progress with Department of Transportation on hiring and contracting with veteran owned companies.
  • Received many responses to working with DOT from veteran owned companies who want to work with other veteran owned companies.
  • Civil War Commemorative Task Force been active in rededicating graves for Civil War. Next year will be Gettysburg troops coming from Alabama for a reenactment. If anyone is interested in what is being planned, please contact SOS
  • Every two years vote and honor a veteran program - passed out nomination forms. If extra forms are needed contact SOS. Trying to break record from last time of 80,000 nominations.

Question (Mike McElhiney MBDA) - Confusion about Voter ID amendment and how it will effect voters overseas. Please clear up misconceptions.
Answer: Every single state in the nation that has adopted voter ID laws have always exempted military and absentee voters. Department of Defense tried to get MN for 10 years to increase overseas voting and suggested getting rid of requirement of getting notary to observe voting overseas. The Voter ID is not about plastic identification it is about a complete proposed change to the MN Constitution which says that all voters including those not voting in person (mail voters, absentee voters) cannot cast their ballot until verified for eligibility. This means that all laws passed to make privileged and made easier for special preferences to overseas voters are not allowed. Could have exempted military from Voter ID like other states, but legislature said no.
Representative Kline -

  • Concern about sequestration and what it could do to our National Defense. Looking at being at a place where military is running out of  training time operations money because of DOD cuts. If sequestration comes in we are looking at over 6 hundred billion in cuts over 10 years. Protecting personnel accounts but totally protecting personnel and take money from O&M and procurement we end up with hollow force; a lot of people with no equipment and no training. Have to do something about that. The House has passed 4 pieces of legislation toward sequestration. Fighting cuts to DOD should be priority.
  • Able to fight for rifle squads at Fort Snelling to keep their rifles.
  • Red Bulls post-deployment pay - able to change the law so troops could get their paid leave after Pentagon changed rules and did not grandfather pay after changing the rule.

Question: Do you feel you are going to be able to stop the 5million dollar cut that will happen in January?
Answer - Yes, because we have to. To be clear, a 480 billion dollar cut over ten years already written into law. With sequestration, we are looking at an additional 600 billion over ten years, meaning the first year will be a 55 billion dollar loss. If this happens, we will have a hollow force. The first thing that gets cut is the money to train. Already trying to fix it.
Question: What are the odds of going over the fiscal cliff in the coming session?
Answer: I am optimistic that we can fix some part or all of it. What happens on November 6th will have a major impact on what happens in the lamedock session. Sequestration affects everybody, but defense takes the largest hit.
Josh Struck from Congresswoman McCollum’s office - Connie Hadlens husband Will passed away a little over a week ago due to a rare brain condition. She is taking time to be with her family. Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers. Please address any concerns in the interim with Josh. Will was the founder of debate Minnesota

  • Signed concurrent resolution recognizing the 375 years of National Guard service in affirming congressional support in maintaining an operational reserve
  • Signed HR 6101 Student Veterans Academic Counseling Enhancement Act of 2012 which helps ensure students receiving GI benefits are successful by requiring the VA to provide individual academic counseling.

Brian Gordon (Congressman Chip Cravaak) -

  • Still continues pressure in DC to regard status of the 24 hour alert admission in Duluth at the 148th Fighter Wing. May be compromised in the next year or two. This is on his radar with Norad
  • Military nominations: 25 applicants so far which is more than last year.
  • Next MAG meeting is November 14th at 10:00 hours 3rd floor. Unsure if it is North or South.   

Mike (MN Department of Veterans Affairs) -

  • Received funding in Laverne to finish the project with the feds money that came through 2 weeks ago. Twenty one million received for 17 North which is phase two of the three phase program. Construction will start in March to avoid paying the winter construction cost.
  • The Auxiliary Building 16 - interior program which should be starting this week. 1.3 million dollars allocated for central pharmacy will start in winter. All should be completed by April when preparing to break ground on 17 North. Waiting for money to completely fund 17 South.
  • In the process of completing the new generator building which should be complete in the next 2 weeks. This will feed the entire campus. (federal grant paid for upgrade)
  • The VA federal grant construction program was reduced from 285 million to 83 million. MN putting forth funding and feds will reimburse.

Mike -

  • Commissioner not present is at Little Falls Cemetery receiving a grant for 1.4 million for expansion of grave sites at cemetery.
  • Reminder - Veterans day on a Sunday the 11th this year and held at Inver Grove Heights Armory. Program similar to past but continues to grow. Breakfast from 8:30- to 9:45. Program begins at 10:00am.

Colonel Sandy Best with MN National Guard -

  • MN has 2 Blackhawk helicopters and a schnook helicopters with 20 personnel supporting fire suppression in Carlsted, MN. Working closely with MN Interagency Fire Center and the Department of Natural Resources.
  • Next Yellow Ribbon Regional Proclamation is October 10th at 3pm at St. Peter’s Church in Richfield recognizing Chaska, Chanhassen, and Forest Lake. Flyers available for further information
  • The 22 through 24 of October the AUSA holding conference in Washington. Don Curr from our agency representing us there.
  • On November 8th General Mills and 13th of November the Habitat for Humanity will be recognized as Yellow Ribbon Companies.
  • In process of conducting audits on all yellow ribbon companies to ensure they are strong and sustaining.
  • Military Funeral Honors program gets federal funding to support currently 26 full time members of MN National Guard support military funeral honors. Program started in 2008 designed to support funeral honors for military members in the global war on terrorism. Appears they will eventually go back to pre-war funeral honors. Feds cut ADOS program and increased MDAY soldier funeral honors. Will cut some full time staff in the next year. Because this is federal funding it is not a state issue. Congressional leaders are putting pressure on to preserve funding. Please contact Mike or me if you have any input.
  •  PDMRA As of October first military members can begin submitting paperwork to get paid. The first batch of 190 soldiers went in we expect their funds to be paid by the end of this month. We have 90% of eligible soldiers complete by December. In Minnesota, there were 900 to 1000 soldiers impacted but it impacted a total of 49000 soldiers.
  • Colonel Eric Ulness predecessor deployed to Afghanistan on economic development trip. He is now back in the states and available by email.
  • Active associate being pursued on international guard side at both our 133 airlift wing locally and also in Duluth. That means we will have active duty personnel come to those bases and share in flying missions. A more cost effective way to better utilize aircraft. Been approved for the 148th fighter wing and anticipate second quarter next year people will arrive at the Duluth airport. Issue is increased number of aircraft to support the mission in Duluth it was not enough as is necessary. Give credit to congressional members coordinating letters to be shared asking support of the ACC commander to get additional aircraft.
  • Minnesota National Guard member Srgt Phinney received Purple Heart.

Question: Is there airforce reserve going away?
Answer: Not a decision that has been fully communicated because of all the battles going on with the Reserve. Still being discussed. The 934th do not have the true facts. The only thing communicated is they will lose their aircraft.
Question: Retired vets are losing 9 aircrafts, where are they going?
Answer: Unknown. Everything is on hold.
Question: How many aircraft will Duluth be getting and will there be more civilian maintainer jobs?
Answer: All of the jobs will come from current active duty roughly 50 people. Additional aircraft being requested is 3.
Nathaniel Salts Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans:

  • Grand Rapids, Bemidji, and Duluth in the past month. Duluth has over 300 veterans. Grand Rapids combined have over 300 veterans. Outreach in rural Minnesota for veterans. It is more difficult to outreach to condensed areas and areas where vets may be in shelters.
  • We have a Mankato stand down November 13th and Rochester stand down is next Tuesday October 9th. Also have a fundraising event at Boy Scout Base Camp Saturday October 6th from 9 - 12. Fun things for kids. Invited military and veteran families for no charge.
  • Upcoming legal clinic in St. Cloud on October 23.
  • Working on transitional housing for homeless veterans specifically homeless female veterans with children.

Question: Stand down in Mankato; one of the vendors invited thought the event was on the 14th. Can you clear this up?
Answer: I will double check but I have it on the 13
**Correction** The Mankato event is on November 14th
Jerry Kyser from MAG:

  • Military Action Group meeting will be on October 14th at 10:00.
  • Recent meeting; gathering ground for information. Jean Massey put forth bipartisan proposal to help reduce cost of primary votes.
  • MAG working with DOC next year work on the bridge over St. Croix and we need to get veteran owned businesses certified to bid for job.
  • Working on two laws: one says that private enterprises can advertise for veterans without being sued for violation of civil rights laws. The community and State of Minnesota looks for hiring veterans due to work ethic.

Jean Massey (Executive director of Fair Vote, MN):

  • Bill introduced by Rep Tim Kelly from Redwing and Senator Ann Breast in New Hope that would provide MN communities the opportunity to use a system of voting called rank choice voting. This is beneficial because it streamlines the process of casting votes. Allows voters to rank in order of preference on the ballot instead of an outright vote. Right now, we do this in a two-step process and the rank choice is a one-step cost cutting option. Allows benefit to military voters because they will not have to worry about primary and general election. They will just need to make the general election. Minneapolis and St. Paul are now using this and we want to share it with other communities. The bill will authorize local jurisdictions to choose this voting method.

Comment: My community in St. Paul (2nd district) had a horrible experience with rank choice in the last election because people do not understand it. The concern is that people are not properly educated on it.
Response: Every time there is a change in voting there is a lot of education needed. Reports show that the process actually went very well in that area.

  • Senate file and house file 1446 and house file 1737

Don Monroe Assistant Director at the Regional Office -

  • Mr. Waller had a death in the family he is going to the East Coast so he could not make it.
  • September 30th is end of VA fiscal year. Managers buy lunch for their employees on October 1st.
  • Nationwide VA paid over 1 million claims for the third year in a row. We received 1.2 million claims for the year so there is still work to do.
  • In St.Paul the veterans service center was successful; completed over 25000 disability compensation claims.
  • At end of fiscal year we stood at 19.2% over 125 days old. Trying to improve that. We are number one in the country as far as number of claims over 125 days. The average nationwide is 65.8%.
  • Veterans service center did almost 5000 claims for other parts of the country.
  • Pension management center handles western half of country completed 49,865 pension related claims.
  • St. Paul alone completed 7.1% of all claims nationwide
  • Vocation rehabilitation and employment division completed 121 rehabilitations with full employment.
  • Home loan program has been very busy. Over 6000 MN veterans made use of the program over this year. Over 51000 in the 9 states, this office handles totaling over 9 billion dollars in VA loans.
  • Changes coming to veterans benefits transformation plan. Last week central office released letters to congressional leaders stating that St Paul would deploy to the new transformational organization being deployed nationwide through VA. Thirty three offices will be adopting this organization in the next two months. October 29th it will start in St Paul. We do not see tremendous changes in our office as far as how work is done and the quality of work. We hope to see this improve work in other areas of the country. The organizational model will create an intake processing center so incoming mail will be separated into different lanes where it will be worked by people specialized in those areas. In the future, it will lead to a paperless work environment in the next year.

Question: CNP exams being farmed out to non-VA doctors there seems to be a lot of problems with these doctors not asking the right questions. Has this been looked in to?
Answer: It was discussed with reps from medical center but there is nothing to report right now. Gary said they have cancelled the contract and all cases are being pulled back into regional office. They are finishing what is already under contract.
Question: What is the current interest rate on GI loans?
Answer: The interest rate is determined by the lenders. VA no longer determines interest rate. They have been running about 3.75 but rates differ. Compare rates because there are differences between lenders.
Question: While switching over to paperless environment are you providing back up to ensure no loss of records?
Answer: Every night our system is backed-up. We retain any documents that are put into the system now. We hold documents for 90 days to ensure nothing happens.
Sandra Horseman for Jan Murphy (retired Air Force)-

  • Murphy talking about vision 23 budget congress has not approved yet. Looking healthy. Expecting to receive a 7% increase in the budget.
  • Vison staff is moving from buildings 9, 10 and 68 going to office in Eagan at address 2805 Dodd Road Suite 250 Eagan, MN – move October 25th and 26th
  • Minneapolis VA is hosting a Diabetes prevention program on Friday October 5th at 10am in the CLC dining room. Twenty-four percent of veterans have type 2 Diabetes. Speakers will be Dr. Charles Billington, Dr. Petzel, Dr. Linda Kinsinger, and Senator Al Franken. Public is invited to attend.
  • Network update available outside on the table. Natalie Dell participated in 2012 Olympics received silver medal in rowing. Natalie is one of our own.
  • Next month is American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out. Quit Plan information in network update flyer.
  • September 18th community resource center opened at 21 Harmon Place in Minneapolis.
  • Get flu shots, please do so quickly. Every year 36000 Americans die from flu. Provided in the ST Cloud Medical Center and the Minneapolis Medical Centers. St Cloud also offering flu shots to significant others, caregivers, or military member not currently active for a fee of $29. Brainerd clinic on October 3rd offering flu shot. Montevideo clinic flu shots from 9-2 today.
  • Minneapolis VA Health Care System Red Cross blood drive on October 5 and again on October 9.
  • Position for Minneapolis Director closes today.

Question: Are there shingles and whooping cough shots being offered to vets anywhere?
Answer: Minneapolis is here they can talk about the shingles vaccinations. They are being offered through the VA.
Minneapolis VA

  • Parking ramp for Minneapolis VA anticipate project awarded in next couple of weeks. 18 month construction set to begin in fall. Will lose 233 parking spots during construction but will gain 400 spots after construction. Handicap parking will be relocated.
  • Leadership changes recruiting new Chief of Primary Care. Dr Mark Rosenberg has left VA. Medical Director of Community Based Outpatient Clinics Dr. Clyde Marken.
  • Win Ports Outpatient clinic in phase II of renovations.
  • Looking for new location of Maplewood CBOC 1725 Legacy Parkway in Maplewood. Open January 22, 2013
  • Future clinics planned on southern border. Funding is approved but location is pending.
  • Issued 300 HUD vouchers
  • Flu clinic October 22-26 in flag atrium in Minneapolis. Anyone coming into clinic can receive a flu shot.

St. Cloud VA Barry-

  • Friday October 19th celebration at Montevideo CBOC to celebrate 10 years.
  • Veterans Day celebration and parade in St Cloud on November 11th. Ceremony at Medical center at 1:30pm followed by parade at 3pm.
  • 45 constructions under management. Dental clinic roof is going on. Audiology clinic being finished. Pharmacy is being used. Geothermal project underway. Building 49 renovations, first two floors are gutted going to be a community living center. Wind Turbine not spinning.

Brad Fort Snelling:

  • Construction Excel Energy and Central Gas doing pipeline work at Fort Snelling. Should be finished by ground freeze.
  • 433 interments in last month. Total of 201480 graves. Rifle squad performed honors for 204 ceremonies last month. 2381 year to date.
  • 8 female vets last month

Question: Anything happening on Veterans Day?
Answer: No because of weather that time of year.
MNDOT Alex Deputy Director MNDOT-

  • Bridge megaproject Dresbot in Rochester meet and greet for all businesses and encourage veteran owned businesses. Meet and Greet 30 minutes from now at U Rock center in N Minneapolis.
  • St Croix River Crossing project. Two key areas for veteran owned businesses. Communication and marketing Veteran preference on this project. Also looking for tree removal. Looking for veteran owned landscaping.
  • Governor has task force consisting of MNDOT and McKnight foundation conducting a survey for small business to create a HUB to provide assistance for financing small businesses and to grow businesses.

Additional Announcements:

  • Veterans assistance person on East side of St Paul started an organization called Base Camp Hope to help veterans.
  • Army Ambassador sends out monthly update of veteran programs available. Last time printed it was 170 pages long. Please read the email and get the word out.
  • VRAP Program closed at the end of September but has re-opened. Program is educational assistance for vets between 35 and 60. Offers 1 year of educational benefits to veterans. Info on va.gov for program info. Event on October 9th for female vets.  At League of Catholic Women in Minneapolis. Women’s Veterans Initiative on Facebook for more information.
  • Shingles shots available at all clinics

BUSINESS MEETING

  • Asking for dues at the beginning of the year
  • Treasurers report:
    • Balance as of the September 1st of $5,292.57
    • No deposits for the month
    • Expenses
      • Parking at Capital $29.75
      • Copying fees of $7.49
      • $549.36 for website hosting fee (went unpaid for 5 years) covers through July 2013
    • End balance as of October 1st of $4705.98
  • Website put together by Dave Hammer who won an award for TRIA website in Minnesota
  • Need couple of people to be on the committee for nomination for First Vice and Secretary in December meeting new folks will need to be collected in those positions
    • Don and Julie will be on committee
  • Need transcriber:
    • Check with college who trains transcriptionists
  • Former Representative Ramstad and his wife have a foundation to help military veterans with mental illness and PTSD
  • Duane (County Veterans Service Officer)- Like to work on this year: we battle county constituents and try to educate them on what we do and how much economic impact we have on communities. Want every county in MN to hire a Veterans Service Officer.
    • Approx. 500000 vets in Minnesota. Of those, less than 60000 get compensation or pension or education benefits. 
    • As an organization, we need to work with communities to educate
    • Budget at county level are bare - inmates are getting more benefits than some vets
    • Suggestion: develop a standard form for each county for getting information summarized and to local newspapers. Develop a format of how you want the information transmitted.
  • Ask members who come to information part of meeting to stay for business part of meetings.

Adjourned