Meeting Minutes for August 2015

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Meeting Minutes - August 5, 2015

Pledge of Allegiance
Greetings: recognition of visitors and guests
            *Veterans Day at the State Fair is September 1st (Ralph Donais, chairman)
            *There will be another flyover soon, along with re-enactors at the State Fair on September 1st. (Jerry Kyser, vice-chairman)

1.) State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Report on MN Veterans Legislative Information - by Mike McElhiney
            *We are progressing and meeting deadlines in preparation for the new political session.
            *Requesting information on early initiatives from the governor’s office
            *Continued discussion of legacy issues (i.e., Veterans Choice)
            *Finishing Phase 2 at Minnesota Veterans Home
            *Will be at Minnesota State Fair
            *Gold Star Retreat is October 2, 3, and 4th
            *Commanders Task Force training – second week in October. More information will be available soon.

Q. Does the department have a fund for emergency assistance for veterans?
A. Yes. Our SSAP is essentially emergency assistance for veterans.
Q. How would someone access that?
A. There are a variety of ways. They can contact our office directly, other organizations can contact us, CVSOs contact us – there is funding available. Unfortunately we cannot operate as fast as other organizations can, so sometimes we might be a secondary provider. We vet the situation and provide aid for a month or two, then contact a different group for a longer-term solution. 

Q. When is the completion of the Minneapolis building expected?
A. Phase Two? We don’t know exactly. Sometime in 2016.
The Preston Cemetery is also expected to be open for business in November, 2015.
Q. Will people be able to be interned there?
A. Yes.

Q. Who makes the decision on the Veterans Day on the Hill?
A. On the date? It’s a collective decision. We look at what the best time would be to look and remind people of the issues that haven’t moved forward yet. I expect it will be early this year since the session is only 2.5 months long.
Q. We would like you to have it early so it can do the most good. We would like to know that you are on board with this.
A. Okay.

Q. Is your department doing anything to prevent the 934th Officers Club from closing?
A. I haven’t heard any discussion with the MDVA about this.

Q. What is the latest on veteran business certification?
A. We have a meeting next week with Representative Dettmer’s office and the Department of Administration. Senator Anderson will be there as well. We want to talk about where we are currently with that issue. MDVA has done our part. A press release will be forthcoming after a few more things are cleared up. Hopefully that will be announced next week.

MN Military Affairs - Annette Kuyper reporting:
            *Welcomed home the 204th Medical Supply Company. They will be the second integrated National Guard unit that we have been working with on employment, where we match Yellow Ribbon company representatives with returning service members in their chosen field. 
            *We are going to take this project to the Guard and Reserve during Drill Weekend, and expand it to any workforce center that works with veterans.
            *Yellow Ribbon has been very successful with helping returning service members with networking
            *On August 10th, General Frank Grass – head of the National Guard Bureau – will be visiting us. We will also be doing a briefing for Mrs. Grass on the Yellow Ribbon project.
            *On September 1st, 2d, and 3rd, we will be getting visit from the National Guard Bureau Family and Soldier Support Division to hear about our employment initiatives.
            *Last week we proclaimed the Goodman Group as a Yellow Ribbon Company. This is the first Yellow Ribbon Company that has senior assisted living, senior living, and nursing homes across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. They are going to help get other similar industries to join with the Yellow Ribbon program.
            *The Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves are starting the Yellow Ribbon Company process, hopefully to be approved after the 1st of the year.
            *We have approved the action plan for the MN Department of Corrections to become a Yellow Ribbon Company.
            * Montrose, MN and Champlin, MN will be proclaimed Yellow Ribbon cities. This brings us up to 97 networks in 214 cities and 26 counties across Minnesota.
            *Schedule for the State Fair will be forthcoming. There will be no parade this year.
            *Bingo Card for Military Appreciation Day to encourage people to visit the various booths for military organizations.

Q. Has the info packet for the people in the booths been sent out yet?
A. No, it has not yet.
MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Kathy Vitalis
            *Minnesota Korean War Veterans gave a donation to MACV.
            *The 4th was the first day of the Metro Stand Down. Over 780 people came through. Today we expect around 400. This is open to all veterans. Around 35% who arrived were homeless. Chanel 9, 4, 5, and 11 all showed up for press coverage.
            *Steve Simon, the new Secretary of State, came to the opening ceremony.
            *National Association of Black Journalists made a donation of living room, dining room, and 40 inch TV for three of our transitional homes. The president came and spoke at the opening ceremony.
            *Flyers for the 8th annual MACV fundraiser on September 18th at the Intercontinental St. Paul Riverfront. 

Q. That guy in Duluth, how much money did he give you?
A. That hasn’t happened yet. You’re talking about Tribute Fest? That hasn’t happened yet. That happens the week of our Duluth Stand Down, sometime around the 3d week of August. There is a gentleman who has donated every year during that. In the past he has used our name to get funds for homeless vets in the Duluth region and until last year, we didn’t get much money. Last year we got a little over a thousand dollars.

Q. Is MACV getting any money from the Hats for Vets?
A. It’s very legitimate. We get a high percentage of the proceeds from the hats.

Vets Employment & Training Services [VETS] - David Seay
            *No relevant updates.
            *Very excited about Stand Down.

Military Action Group (MAG) / Viking Stadium - Jerry Kyser
            *HR24-60 introduced by Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York. It’s a program to build an extension of veterans benefits, which currently provides a no-cost nursing care for veterans homes for veterans who are more than 70% disabled. New York, Hawaii, and Minnesota have adult day centers being built. This bill would require the VA to pay 65% of the cost of 70% service connected disabled veterans that utilize adult day centers. The thought is that this will keep veterans in their homes for longer. 
            *Meeting next week with Department of Administration to finalize how they certify who is a veteran owned business, which is critical when considering the Vikings stadium. We currently have less than 1% of veteran owned businesses involved with the project, and the deadline for new contracts is closing. Only 4% of the workforce on the stadium are veterans.

Q. I’ve talked to a lot of veteran owned businesses and asked them if they applied for this. They said they looked into it, but the red tape and paperwork were overwhelming.
A. That’s right, that’s the VA system. We are eliminating that for the state of Minnesota.

2.) Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office -Ron Woolery Reporting;
            *National Rating Claims Inventory is at 369,000, down from a peak of 884,000. The backlog is down almost to a 100,000 claims. It was at over 600,000. Veterans are waiting 170 days less nationwide for a decision. The Minnesota Rating Inventory is 17,478 pending at St. Paul. Our average days pending is 95. This is for everything in the regional office. The national goal was 125 days.
            *We will be partnering with the St. Cloud hospital for a town hall meeting in Brainerd on September 9th.
            *We are working with the MNDVA benefits division to set up a claims clinic on a Saturday in November. Either the Saturday before Veterans Day or the one after. This is still in the planning phase. We will be working in conjunction with CVSOs. The goal is eventually to have a one-stop shop for veterans to come in with their information.
            *Congress passed the Veterans ID Card Act. Still waiting for details. 

  • National rating claims inventory369,103 (down from peak of 884,000 in July 2012)
  • National rating backlog (rating claim pending over 125 days):  110,025 (down from peak of 611,000 in March 2013)
  • Today, Veterans are waiting 170 days less for a decision, nationally (peak of 282 days in March 2013 to 112 days today)
  • Nationally, we have already completed over 1 Million rating claims this fiscal year – 18 days earlier than last year.

Local update

  • Our local rating inventory (includes MN Veterans, other Veterans we are assisting, our Pension Center and our special Restricted Access Claims Center for employee claims) is 17,478
  • Average days pending for the above is 95 days
  • We are partnering with the St. Cloud VAMC for a Town Hall in Brainerd on September 9, 2015 from 5-7 pm at the American Legion Post 225, 708 Front Street, Brainerd Minnesota.
  • We are in the planning phase for a Saturday Claims Clinic on November. The date has not yet been determined, but we will be working with VHA, MNDVA, the CVSOs and the various service organizations.
  • Congress passed the veteran ID card legislation. We are still waiting for details of how it will be managed.
  • C-123 (Airforce-related Agent Orange claims)
    • VA has decided that all these claims will be processed by the St. Paul Regional Office, and we have already received a number of these claims.
    • The C-123 hotline is 1-800-749-8387 to assist Veterans, their survivors and representatives.    

Q. [Kathy] Can my staff use the ID cards as some kind of identification? Whether or not there had been an honorable discharge, for instance.
A. They haven’t nailed that down yet.
Q. This could potentially help with eligibility purposes.
A. This could be huge. For our purposes, you have to have an honorable or other than honorable discharge. You cannot have a dishonorable discharge to get one of these IDs. I don’t know how they are planning to address that just yet.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy - Director VISN 23 - Chris Stromberg Reporting:
            *Jason Petty will be coming next month as the Deputy Network Director.
            *HR-3236 was signed last week, which provided the VHA access to additional funding for the remainder of 2015 – until October 1. Around $3.5 billion in total. This is for two purposes: to continue all of our programs that we use to purchase healthcare services in the community from various providers and to continue to provide treatments for patients that have hepatitis C – there is a new drug protocol in place that offers a cure. Because of the additional funding, all of our normal operations will continue on.
            *There is language in HR-3236 that is going to help us reform our non-VA care programs. All of our programs are more complex than they need to be. This will help streamline things. We have 90 days to get this done.  
            *Some changes to the Choice plan. Now open to any enrolled veteran. Care authorization no longer has the 60 day limit. Improved some provider eligibility requirements. It continues to be a struggle.
Q. Is that bill going to change what is available for VA hospitals?
A. Yes. It basically allows us access to a new source of funding. It provided us funding to cover emergency operations and all of our normal operations.

VAHC Mpls. - Director Patrick J. Kelly - Ralph Heusner:
            *September 14th the Minneapolis VA is one of the five VA medical centers around the world holding the Women’s Health Campaign all day events at the facility. Goal is to get information out and to recognize prominent female veterans.
            * The Common Bond of St. Paul received a VA contract to renovate five buildings for 58 units for homeless veterans.  There will be a ribbon cutting on October 2.
            *Going to Rice Lake in September for a town hall meeting.
            *Article in the paper today on PTSD treatment. Concluded that mindfulness therapy is a viable treatment.
            *Two-part series on VA pain treatment in Star Tribune in July 18th and 19th. Not accurate. Article claimed that VA cut off pain medication.
Q. How affordable are the Common Bond units to veterans?
A. All of the units are subsidized in some way. People living there pay 30% of their income. There is a mix of funding sources.

VAHCS St. Cloud VA Medical Center - Director Barry Bahl - Barry Venable reporting:
            *New nurse executive is Mark Aberle.
            *St. Cloud is taking care of an unprecedented number of veterans.
            *Even with added demand, we are able to keep our wait times minimal. 98% of patients are seen within 30 days. The average for the last year as been 11 days for both new and established patients in primary care, specialty care, and mental health.
            *Patient satisfaction remains high.
            *Continue to expand facilities and services. New Infusion Center is set to open next week.
            *Had an independent review of Scheduling and Access Practice in St. Cloud in July. There were no ill-conduct findings.       
            *Veterans Choice program is up and running. Some issues: sending and receiving documentation from outside providers and getting community providers to sign up to take care of veterans.
            *Focused on hiring additional staff. 30-35 new positions have been filled under the Veterans Choice Act. 14 of those are provider level individual.
            *Budget is in adequate shape.
            *Building 49 remodel has been halfway completed. Slightly behind schedule.
            *Buildings 9 and 28 are being remodeled with the intention of adding 23 beds to the residential rehabilitation program. The program currently operates at 98/99% capacity. This would bring the program to a total of 171 beds. The remodel should be completed this time next year.
            *Kitchen remodel is underway.
            *New rehabilitation building is nearing completion, expected to be done sometime this fall.
            *Replaced the revolving door.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Director - John Knapp
            * We will be doing a wreath laying ceremony August 16th at 11 AM to honor The Spirit of 45, which is the commemoration of the end of WW2.
            *Did 538 interments during July

3. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators
            All attending other functions.

4.) Announcements
            Need more volunteers for the airport Armed Forces Service Center.

5. Business Meeting

Treasurer’s report
            *Balance since the 1st of July $4498.09. There were deposits of: 0.
            *Expenses: $157.19
            *Balance as of the 1st of August is $4340.90
            *Six organizations have not paid their dues
New Business
            *Concern that Ralph Donais and Jerry Kyser are doing all the work and what will happen when they leave. Need younger people to come in and volunteer. Consider hiring a part-time executive director to help with the work, but also maintain the continuity of the organization.
            *We don’t have a way to recruit younger people. Need to find a way to do that.
            *Next MAG meeting is the 5th of October.

Adjournment/Next Meeting 9:30 AM - Wednesday 2 September 2015