Meeting Minutes for June 2014

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Meeting Minutes - June 4, 2014

  • Call to order - 09:30, Invocation - Pledge of Allegiance -
  • Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests -
  • Announcements - Ralph Donais, Chairman - Jerry Kyser, Vice Chairman. 
    • Welcome new representatives/members

1. Federal Agencies
VA Regional Office -Peter Panos, PAO

  • Director Waller thanks you for coming, he is unable to attend due to being on assignment to Baltimore
    • Will most likely be announced that his new job will be in Baltimore
    • Would result in new Regional Director for Benefits office
  • Have reduced backlog of claims older than 125 days from peak of 611,000 to 284,000
    • 54% reduction in 15 months
  • Reduction of inventory: went from peak of 884,000 claims in July 2012 to 566,000  
    • 36% reduction
  • Paper usage is down 5,000 tons annually in transformation to paperless environment
    • 89% of claims are now completed electronically
    • Electronic processing is speeding up the claims process
  • Whiffle building is almost fully open
    • Tenants moving in now
    • Immigration and Immigration Court will be housed there
    • Hospital will have clinic there, too
    • Service organizations and auditorium all on ground floor
  • Comment-unsure how to answer due to lack of information, referred to article in Pioneer Press

MN Representative Bob Dettmer

  • Like to thank Military Affair’s Don Kerr, Commissioner’s office with Mike,  Colonel Best, Jerry and Ralph for all their hard work and involvement on legislative front
  • Update on Legislative Session:
  • List that details pieces of Legislation that has come before the body (updated version available on Department of Veteran Affairs website)
    • Important information on right hand column of what did and did not get passed
    • Veteran Owned Small Businesses can now get certified through State instead of waiting on lengthy certification through federal VA
    • This policy is passed but not funded
  • Thinks we should follow an omnibus bill with solely Veterans’ issues included, it might be easier to get both houses to see it, and get it passed
  • Bill passed: Increased benefit of having Veteran’s house remain tax-free for spouse to 8 years after Veteran’s death ( Homestead Tax Credit Exemption)
  • Supports Homeless crisis through MACV
  • Another bill to be worked on: MN is one of few states that tax Veterans’ Retirement Pay
    • This bill was accepted and passed on the House floor
  • A federal issue to be worked on: Currently, VA hospital has threshold of $3,000 for when Veterans needs a prosthetic, wheelchair, or ramp, etc.
    • For anything over $3,000, they have to go get 3 different bids, so the entire process can take months instead of a few days or weeks
    • Thinks threshold should be raised
  • Women’s license plates also put forward
  • Comment: Need to people at the federal level involved to get things done

VISN 23 -Janet Murphy- Director VISN 23 - Steven Julius

  • Julius is currently also Acting Network Director for VISN 23
  • Director Murphy has been detailed to Washington now
  • Initial reports from last month about delayed care at Phoenix VA
    • Some allegations were true
    • Secretary tasked VISN leadership to go and review all medical centers and CBOCs with more than 10,000 Veterans
    • Week of May 11th, they were divided into 50 teams of 4 (2 from VISNs and 2 from central office) to review the centers from all over the country
    • Interviewed schedulers to see if they understood directive, and to get a feel to see if they were being asked to do things they weren’t supposed to.
    • Surprised and disappointed to see that at 2 facilities, the schedulers were manipulating scheduling package to make it seem like they were meeting the goal of seeing Veterans within 15 days of desired care date, when in truth they did not have the capacity to do that
    • Front level employees felt as though this is what they were being asked to do by supervisors, however the senior leadership at facility had no idea where that idea came from
    • IG released interim report that showed some of these inappropriate scheduling practices were widespread, and there was a systemic problem within the culture
    • Undersecretary for health, Dr. Petzel, was asked for resignation
    • VA Secretary,  General Shinseki,  also asked to resign
    • VA health care is high quality care, 'with the caveat of when you can get it'
    • Problem is that there is increasing demand for service within the VA, with unrealistic expectations that they can meet it
    • Accelerating Care Initiative: Asked all facilities to look at electronic waitlist for new patients, and contact all Veterans if they want to wait for care through VA or if they want VA to try to arrange for care in private sector
    • Looked at people who are already scheduled, but scheduled for more than 90 days, and again will pay for care within private sector if desired
    • Long term care: how do we make sure we see all Veteran patients within desired date of 14 days? Over the course of last few years, the desired date became a performance measure, which was put into employees’ performance reviews. This was a leadership fail because it helped lead to the discrepancies and manipulations of schedules because it is not a realistic goal.
    • New Secretary, Sloan Gibson, is now overseeing that the desired care date goal of 14 days is being taken out of every employee’s performance review
    • Biggest shock to the system is the idea that the culture and integrity is inferior
    • Asked all Medical Center Directors to meet with schedulers to tell them we need to have integrity in the system
    • Informally, the exit briefs from our own facilities show that it does not show schedule manipulations going on at our own facilities in Minneapolis

Mpls VA HCS - Director Patrick J Kelly

  • Good news story: opened up new clinic in Shakopee- this is the 13th CBOC
    • Will probably be the last, at least for a while due to temporarily sufficient coverage
    • Opened on June 2nd
    • Staffed by contractor
    • Broad range of services, including imaging, podiatry, normal primary care services, and mental health services
    • Going to be a good service to Veterans close to home
    • Will cut ribbon on 9 a.m. on Monday June 16th
  • Annual Research day in Minneapolis is June 25th
    • This year many presentations will be of interest to younger Veterans
    • 2 p.m. in Auditorium in VA
  • Terrific ribbon cutting at Fort Snelling Upper Post last week for new Homeless Veterans project
    • 58 housing units for Veterans opening in about a year ( mostly for single Veterans, but some units for families)
    • VA’s role is providing job searching, health care, etc.
    • Have about 500 vouchers to help Veterans get into housing
  • In course of our local audit, there was nothing unusual found with VA scheduling practices
    • One scheduler requested an interview with an auditor to discuss a few issues
    • But as far as he knows, no integrity issues, just knowledge issues
    • Mental health care is fantastic
    • Sometimes struggle with specialty services, or providing care in rural areas
  • Have received numerous calls and letters in support of our Veterans in MN
  • Questions:
    • What location were you speaking about? -Was talking specifically about Minneapolis
    • Any information about medical ID cards? -Need to find out
    • Noting accountability: If line schedulers are doing this, they are doing it for a reason(because somebody above them is telling them to) - Yes, this is painful for our staff because our integrity is being called in question. Will take these issues very seriously if any arise locally.
  • Note: Talk to a patient advocate if somebody has a problem with VA so it can be fixed

 St Cloud VA HCS - Director Barry Bahl - Cheryl Thieschafer

  • Good news: multitude of construction projects going on
    • Systematically going through nursing home CLC units to provide privacy and modernize the facility to provide home-like environment
    • Can see at next meeting on July 2nd in St. Cloud in Building 96
    • Ribbon cutting ceremony for pharmacy expansion completed last month
    • Exciting projects underway such as construction of rehab building and construction of second floor for mental health building - actually a new mental health building
  • Wait times are highly variable, so they change from day to day
    • If urgent needs, they are seem immediately
  • Small number of patients on wait list in St. Cloud
    • Did not find issues of integrity at St. Cloud
  • Comment: Ralph thanks the St. Cloud VA for helping his father in law receive adequate hearing aids in a small time frame so he would be able to hear everyone at the funeral of Ralph’s mother in law
  • Windmill still not working
  • Comment: Praise for Women’s Veteran’s event

2. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators
Senator Amy Klobuchar- General (RET) Tim Cossalter -No One

Senator Al Franken- Nicole Ly

  • Attended the Fort Snelling Memorial Day event
  • Attended 1st Annual Cottage grove Memorial event
  • Hosted his 3rd annual military child poetry contest: theme was “Celebrating the Veteran in my Life”
    • Reception for winners was last week
  • Groundbreaking from Fort Snelling Veteran’s Home
  • Has been staying closely informed of VA medical investigation, spoken to VA leadership
  • Also co-sponsored a bipartisan bill originally authored by Senator Rubio to hold VA accountable for the systematic problems and also authorizing the Secretary of the VA to fire/discipline Senior VA officials for poor performance, not just misconduct

5th District Representative – Keith Ellison – Mike Siebenaler

  • Attended and spoke at Memorial Day ceremony last week at St. Louis Park
  • Also continued his tradition of calling Veterans he has heard from in the past year
  • On Friday, Congressman and Mr. Siebenaler will be out at 934th Airlift Wing, will be taken up in a C130
  • Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul announced a few months ago that they would try to end homelessness in the Twin Cities within the next few years
    • Some Veterans organizations are collaborating with this project to help the homelessness Veterans
  • In drafting stage of a piece of legislation that targets some of the pay day loan lenders that target people that are serving in the military
    • Creating unique contracts set up the military pay structure, which makes it hard to ever pay off loan
    • If you know anybody that has been targeted, let us know
  • Question about Congressmen Ellison’s son: His son is wrapping up his first year in the Army, and is in Georgia right now preparing to be a medic

6th District Representation - Michele Bachmann- Jessica Faust

  • Congresswoman has been following VA investigation very closely, called upon Shinseki to resign
    • Also very supportive of investigation, wants to fix the heart of the problem
    • Spoke with St. Cloud VA medical Director, Barry Ball
  • Spent Memorial day in Afghanistan visiting some of our troops
  • Has Congresswoman’s  statement about Secretary Shinseki if you want a copy

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie

  • Our district ranges from Canadian border almost down to Iowa border
    • Works with Sioux Falls VA, Fargo VA, Minneapolis and St. Cloud Vas as well
  • Was visiting VAs recently, and visited the CBOC in Bemidji,
  • Visited with Director and staff of Fargo VA
  • Fargo has a clinic with 2,600 Veterans enrolled, and receiving their care at the clinic with 17 people working there
    • Congressman had tour of clinic, and visited with Veterans and staff
  • Yesterday, Congressman was in Litchfield to welcome home 83 soldier of the National Guard who had been deployed in Afghanistan for the last 11 months
  • Participated in Memorial Day service in Milan, MN
  • Also co-chairing two Veteran focused caucuses: The Military Veteran’s Caucus, and the Rural Veteran’s Caucus
  • Legislatively, the Congressman signed on to the following bills that got passed:
    • HR4261: Gulf War Health Research Reformat
    • HR2527:  To provide Veterans with counseling and treatment for Sexual Trauma
    • HR4031: The VA Management and Accountability Act

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan- Rick Olseen

  • Attended a number of events for Memorial Day
  • Five roundtable discussions with Veterans to allow them the chance to voice issues
    • Duluth, Little Falls, Brainerd, Center City, Hibbing
  • Honor Flight with about 80 people flying out of Duluth this Saturday, 6/7, and Congressman will be there to see them off at 5 a.m.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz -Dave Wentzel

  • Actions his office is taking in light of Phoenix VA report:
    • Congressmen is on the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee and subcommittee for Oversight and Investigation
    • He did right to VISN Director Murphy as soon as he found out about Phoenix
    • Followed up by 3 site visits: Mankato CBOC, Minneapolis VA Medical Center, and Rochester CBOC
    • Joined by Veteran Service Organization Leaders and VISN leaders and hospital leaders
    • Discussed wait times and systemic problems
    • Interim IG report released that led to hearing, afterwards he asked that Secretary Shinseki resign
    • Congressman is deciding to meet with Veterans in district to see what their needs are to help him decide what bills the VA should move forward with

2nd District Representative - John Kline - Chaz Johnson

  • Brought our Intern today: Martha Davis
  • NDAA was passed : National Defense Reauthorization Act
    •  Key provisions about TriCare, DOD accountable Act
    • Made sure Yellow Ribbon Program maintained
  • Took time to Honor 35th Anniversary of Fort Snelling Rifle Squad
  • Colonel Best brought up Special Victims Counsel
    • Continuing to press the Army for Guard’s concern about difficulty to notify about assault if you don’t have the right status
  • Was cosponsor of VA Accountability Act, and did call for Shinseki’s resignation
  • Believes there must be many more steps taken to remedy problem
  • Visited new CBOC in Shakopee; looks great and is in a good location to serve Veterans
  • Congressman was in Hastings on Memorial Day, and Mr. Johnson was at Fort Snelling

3rd District Representative -Eric Paulson - John Paul Yates

  • Congressman Paulson Serves on the Board for The Minnesota Military Family’s Tribute Memorial
    • Will be speaking at the Groundbreaking today at the Capital
  • Had reception for 13 Military Academy students from our district last night
  • Supported the same three pieces of legislation already mentioned in relation to the VA issue, and will be speaking with Director Kelley this week
  • Did call for General Shinseki’s resignation

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland

  • Congresswoman McCollum serves on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and Interior
    • Was traveling recently to visit with Navy
  • Memorial Day was spent in North St. Paul
  • On the VA Accountability Bill
  • Had Academy Student Recognition ceremony
  • Gratitude for being updated by Mr. Kelly
  • Congresswoman McCollum’s website has statement about VA issues

 3. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Veterans 2010 Legislative Info -Mike McElhiney

  • Did not have any “unsession” issues to resolve this year
  • Typical session with Veteran issues- over 100 bills
  • About 42 like issues, with about 30 themes within
    • 21 bills that passed
  • Bonding: Department received $2.7 million for bonding ( 500,000 extra for asset preservation and 700,000 for deep tunnel maintenance on Minneapolis campus)
    • Did not receive everything we asked for
    • A few Memorials within bonding bill: St. Paul Memorial, City of Edina, Hmong and Loas Memorial on Capital ground
    • Veteran State Trail- received $1.7 million
  • Veteran Owned Small Business bill passed in a different form than hoped for
    • As of August 1st this will be in effect, however there is not extra funding for position of certifier
  • Peace Officer Licensing exam: had changes in post board to make it easier for Veterans to receive reciprocity
  • American Legion had National Initiative
    • Bill allows any Veteran to attend MNSCU institutions at an in-state tuition rate
  • Funding for post board de-escalation training
  • Veteran’s Voices program at Humanities Center
    • Received funding for Over 40 Veterans program and advertisement of program
  • Month of October is Veteran’s Voices months
    • Help Humanities Center to raise awareness
  • Women’s License plate got passed
    • Cost about $10 extra
    • Also have Combat Wounded License plate for motorcycles now
  • Portion of bridge on route 60 to be renamed the Michel Duane Clickner Bridge, in honor of fallen Vietnam Veteran
  • Area of local US Highway 8 named after Patrick Spehar: one of SEALs recently killed in action
  • Taxes: Extended Homestead Tax Exemption
  • Let’s Go Fishing Minnesota received funding
  • DBS must design new driver’s license before it can be designed and implemented to help obtain hunting/fishing license
  • Grants available through Department of Housing and Finance to determine if there are issues with homelessness
  • Sterns County received funding for  Administrative functions for Group Residential housing- 1 time Appropriation
  • Details about session and bills are on website:

 MN Military Affairs - COL Sandy Best- Don Kerr

  • Personal note: Connie Haddeland is preparing for Chemotherapy; she can use our support
  • Grateful for support of HR3930: National Commission on Structure of Army Act of 2014
    • Senate Companion bill of 2295, which both Senators have signed on for
  • Had breakfast with Congressional delegation with topic of Army Force Structure
    • Also spoke about a study put into place by Senate Armed Services Committee in 2010 when they provided funding to look at readiness centers across the state
    • Remain committed to ensuring cuts made to Army National Guard are equitable
  • 64 Armories in 63 communities in the state of MN
  • Annette Kyper is in Washington at a Joining Community Forces Event
  • Diversity Event put on by Federal Executive Board this Friday at Inver Hills Community College called “Diversity Day 2014: Weaving our Workplace”
  • On 6/6, will be proclaiming Northwestern Mutual as a Yellow Ribbon Entity
    • Also proclaiming Quad Communities:  New Hope, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Golden Valley on 6/15
  • National Guard will participate in 41st Bilateral Affairs Norwegian Exchange this summer
    • Col. Best will be on that tour going to Norway to train
  • 7/9: Deed Veterans Career Fair
  • 7/9: Cargill will be proclaimed as a Yellow Ribbon Company
  • 7/12: Major General Alessario will be retiring
  • 7/20: MN National Guard hosting Woman’s Equality Day at Camp Ripley
  • 7/26: Northern Tier Energy will be proclaimed as Yellow Ribbon Company
  • Bill Passed: Interstate Compact- Educational compact is agreement between states for military families with elementary children to ensure credits weren’t lost
  • Bill passed: Mandates that professional licensees for military spouses be expedited
  • Note: Did not receive as much money from bonding bill as requested, but will continue to try for more funds in the future

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV)- Kathy Vitalis - Jimmy Collier

  • Kathy is in D.C. in support of First Lady’s press release to address Veteran homelessness
  • Kathy was elected to the Board of Directors for National Coalition for  Veteran
  • Free drop in legal clinic for Veterans
    • In the atrium from  9-2pm at VA medical Center in Room 2S114 next Tuesday 6/10
  • Stand down is on August 5th and 6th at Boy scout Base Camp 201 Bloomington Road at Fort Snelling
  • Secretary Shinseki complimented Minneapolis VA before he resigned

 Military Action Group (MAG) -  Jerry Kyser -

  • Wanted to get bill passed to allow businesses a tax credit for hiring Veterans
  • Continue to expand thought pattern on how to make MN more Veteran friendly

Viking Stadium - Ralph Donais

  • Currently, 1.5% of contracts have been given to Veteran owned businesses
  • : this organization has money to help Veteran owned businesses start working on the stadium
  • Outreach has been lacking
  • Need to keep pushing state to certify Veteran owned businesses
  • Next Equity meeting is 7/31
  •   Announcements -
  • Meeting in Recess for 10 minutes 
  • Handing our Treasury Report
  • Balance as of 5/1 was $5,202.94
  • No deposits
  • Expenses: Parking permit & Transcription total = $149.75
  • Balance as of 6/1 is $5,052.19
  • Approval of report moved and seconded

Old Business

  • Parking price will increase in August    
  •  Suggestion to carpool for next meeting in St. Cloud

New Business

  • Secretary resigned; need new secretary
    • Secretary reviews minutes
    • Updates database of membership and visitors
    • Possibly pay transcriptionist to keep track of database until somebody volunteers
    • Can advertise need on the Facebook page and website
    • Motion made and seconded
  • Had a request to take Commander’s Taskforce name off of our website
    • DAV and VFW pulled out of UVLC for time being
    • Discussion about hoping to continue working with them in future
  • Note: Sid past UVLC chairman, retired NAVY captain, passed away at age 94
  • Motion to adjourn and seconded
    Next meeting 0930, 2 July, 2014 at St Cloud HCS Bldg 96