Meeting Minutes for July 2015

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Meeting Minutes - July 8, 2015

Call to Order - 9:30, Invocation - Pledge of Allegiance
Announcements by Jerry Kyser

*Twins Baseball game - Military Appreciation Day on Sunday, July 12th. The DAV has 250 tickets to give away. Largest flyover of Vietnam and World War II aircraft for fifteen years will take place around 1:10 or 1:15. There will be a group of Vietnam and WWII vets on the ground, along with re-enactors. Collaborating with the Twins and Gold Star Families to put it together. Called “The Sound of Freedom.”

  1. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Reporting by General (RET) Tim Cossalter
            *Senate was in recess the past week
            *Senator was covering Kittson County for Memorial Day
            *Senator talked to the Miracle Air on the 26th of June about the importance of access to veterans, encouraged them to increase their access to veterans
            * Over the past month, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Indeed, and Mac V and another twelve counties, we’ve met with CVSO and veterans to discuss veterans’ issues and access. It went successfully.

Senator Al Franken - Reporting by Alex Schueller
            *The senator co-sponsored an NDA amendment that would require the DOD to publish information with their online comparison tool. This would better inform the public about investigations and lawsuits that are going against for-profit schools that are preying on service members and veterans on tuition assistance money and GI Bill money.
            *Senator hosted a round-table on predatory payday lending with a focus on both civilians and adding protections for veterans. He urged the DOD to change the rules to be more stringent against the payday lenders who are preying on service members and veterans.
            *Senator co-sponsored the Military and Veterans Protection Act. This closes a loophole for for-profit schools in recruiting veterans, because of the 90/10 rule that was passed around 1910, which allows them to take 90% of the profits and only 10% of government profits. More details will be provided on request.
            *Senator attended the Welcome Home ceremony for the 34th and 147th Assault Helicopter Battalion. National Guard hosted.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser
            *Not present.

2nd District Representative - John Kline - Reporting by Chaz Johnson
            *Apologies about not being able to attend St. Cloud event
            *Kline was able to get Arnold Hjermstad his Legion of Merit Medal from WWII, 71 years late. Event took place at the Cannon Falls Senior Living Center. The French had a secondary event for the Legion of Honor Medal.
            *Co-sponsored the HR 1994 Bill, the VA Accountability Act. Provides additional authority for the secretary of the VA to fire employees. A more complete rundown of the bill can be found at (thomas.gov.hr1994)
            *Co-sponsored HR 2123, the Enhancing the Veterans Access to Treatment Act. This requires the VA to allow veterans receiving care to keep their DOD formulary and not move to the VA formulary, as this has been proven to increase hardship on the part of the patient.
            *General Salter (sp?), retired, shared the letter that Kline spearheaded with Senator Klobuchar to the VA secretary regarding the billing issues with the VA medical center in the Wisconsin/Minnesota contingent. Some 1,500/2,00 individuals that are impacted by this. A lot of details still need to be clarified. Staff has met with liaisons from the VA out in DC. Situation is ongoing.
            Q. Concerning co-pays, is the VA going to go ahead and start taking money? [unclear]
            A. Initially, we heard it was between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. The numbers are still in flux. Need to reinvestigate to verify who owes money. Ralph may have more information on what the VA was doing to address that issue. There are still a lot of questions at this point.
            Q. Do you see the VA pushing ahead and taking money away before any of this is addressed formally?
            A. No. From my understanding, everything has been put on hold until it can be determined exactly what is owed and by whom, and how to move forward.
            Q. Has Mr. Hjermstad been on an Honor Flight? We would like to get in touch, as he’s something of a community figure.
            A. I don’t think he’d be able to go because of health reasons. I will get you the information.

3rd District Representative - Eric Paulsen - John Paul Yates
            Not present

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum -Reporting by Ben Peterson
            * McCollum is on appropriations committee, including the subcommittees on defense, which passed their appropriations bill out of the house last month. Also on the interior, which has been on the floor the last couple of days.
            * McCollum was in Afghanistan recently for a week. It was a bipartisan, joint trip with the Armed Services Committee. Also in attendance were Congresswoman Norma Torres, Congresswoman Martha McSally, and Congresswoman Susan Davis. The purpose was to visit with and thank servicemen and women in the theater, meet with Afghan members of parliament – including the First Lady of Afghanistan – and receive an update on the security situation that our troops are facing in Afghanistan.  
            * McCollum attended and spoke at the 834th Aviation Support Battalion of the Minnesota National Guard deployment down in Hastings on June 6th.
            *The congresswoman is going through a large number of relevant bills. Due to the large number, if anyone is interested, they should meet with the representative after the meeting.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison -Reporting by Mike Siebenaler
            *Ellison was the guest speaker at the 133rd for their Star Base graduation party last week. It’s their STEM program that they have out on the base. It is the second time that Ellison has been the keynote speaker at one of their graduations.
            *Ellison has signed onto the Military Consumer Protection Act, introduced by Representative Duckworth, gives the Consumer Financial Protection Board the authority to look into any financial matters that soldiers are suing under the Service Members Civil Relief Act. It will be another resource for people having issues with that bill.
            * Ellison has signed onto the Restore Honors To Service Members Act that allows members of the military who were discharged due to sexual orientation in the past to have their discharges reviewed for upgrade.

Q. Do you any HR numbers on those two bills?
A. I do not at this moment. I will get them for you.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Zack Freimark
Not present.

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson -Reporting by Meg Lowaugie
            *Peterson has co-sponsored H.R. 1475, to list the names of all Americans killed in action during the Korean War.
*He also co-signed the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act that would allow yellow ribbon GI education enhancement programs to go to children or spouses of service members who died in the line of duty while deployed. No bill number on that one.
*Peterson co-sponsored H.R. 2522, the Homeless Veterans Welcome Home Act. This would establish a national pilot program to provide furniture, housing items, and other assistance for homeless veterans as they transition into permanent housing. 
* Peterson co-sponsored The Revamp Act to help renovate and enhance veterans meeting halls and posts, allowing organizations that are classified by the IRS as 501c19 nonprofit organizations to be eligible for funding through community development block grants. No bill number.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan -Reporting by Rick Olseen           
            *House passed H.R. 91, The Veterans ID Act. This will allow veterans who don’t have their DD214 forms to carry their veteran ID cards.
            *Minnesota National Guard is taking the representative’s staff on a two-day tour of the airbase at Camp Chinook and then going to Camp Ripley.
            *On July 22, Rick Olseen will be spending the day in Cambridge at the Isanti County Fair. The fair is hosting a Veterans Freedom Fest from around 1-8 PM.

  1. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

 MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito
            Not present.

MN Veterans 2015 Legislative Info - Mike McElhiney
            *Changed the law so that July is now officially the Hire A Veteran month. The effective date is not until August.
            *Repealed the Guardianship Program because nothing had been done with it for several years.
            *H.R 450 passed, which designates the Sunday before Memorial Day as Military Spouse and Family Day
            *H.R. 546 passed, which would allow government entities to share information, specifically the DD214s, so that paperwork can be completed more efficiently
            *Senate File 5, the Omnibus in Higher Education Bill has passed. It established a veterans’ pilot program for agriculture that will start down in Mankato. It will cost an estimated $175,000 to establish an eight-week training course to give veterans agricultural skills for further employment in that industry. If successful, the program will move to more locations around the state.
            *Senate File 1458, the Omnibus Health and Human Services Finance Bill, has passed. It authorized $85,000 to Striges County to support the Eagles Healing Nest. There is a provision that authorized $100,000 per year for nonprofit organizations to provide services to Asian-Americans veterans of the Vietnam war, or who provided assistance during the Vietnam era born before 1965 that are not authorized to receive any other benefits that US veterans are authorized.
            *Senate File 878, the Omnibus Public Safety and Finance Policy Bill, has been passed. It states that veterans with combat or fire training can take the test for civilian fire or law enforcement careers without a waiting period. It should authorize a smoother transition for firefighters
            * Senate File 888, the State Government Veterans Finance Bill, has passed. Received full funding for the agency. Will not have to reduce activity. More details for specific offices. $40,000 of unspent funds from last year was sent to the office of Higher Education last year to implement necessary changes to administer the licensing and certification for veterans and/or spouses. There will be a robust audit at the Minneapolis veterans home.
            *Honor Member Flag bill passed. This is in Senate File 888. There is a protocol for how and when to fly that flag.
            *Jobs and Energy Bill passed in the first special session. Specific provisions for disabled veterans about generating employment opportunities and skills. There are targeted groups within the bill.
            *The Legacy Bill passed. $113,000 was appropriated for the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp for improvements, in addition to a $100,00 for Veterans Voices.
            *The Agriculture and Environment Natural Resources Finance Bill has passed.  Provision for veterans or a resident of veterans’ homes who purchase a firearm or deer hunting tag, they can take an antler-less deer during any of the seasons.
            *Bonding bill was fairly reduced, but still passed. MDVA received $650,000, which will be used for a study of the bridge that has closed to determine the extent of the safety issues. Data should be in by October. $300,00 was also appropriated to fix the roof of the Eagles Healing Nest. Slight language changes in funding.
            * The desire to use the veterans ID card to vote with is being considered by the secretary of state’s office. Complicated issues with funding are being considered.

Q. Since the Eagles Nest is receiving so much money, do they have any reporting requirements?
A. The funding is not going through the MDVA, so we have no control over that. The funding goes through the county. There is a contract.

Q. How do we facilitate the Department of Administration certification for Veteran Owned Small Business Certification? The Vikings stadium has opened up a lot of business possibilities.
A. We are aware of this. There are meetings scheduled. We need to stay on top of this.

Q. What happened to the Veterans Retirement Funding?
A. It went as far as it has gone in the past several years. In the bill, it came to a $1000 year reduction off of your taxable income for every year served. The problem was, there was no tax bill. It was not entered in time. The bill can be revived next session.

MN Military Affairs - Reporting by Annette Kuyper, Don Kerr
            *Got everything from the legislature except bonding
            *Established a Death Gratuity for service members in state active duty
            *Established some additional authority to offer reenlistment reclassification bonuses  
            *Structural change within the budget was approved.
            *No bonding for this year. In the queue for next year.
*The 204 Area Support Medical Company is returning home. The celebration will be the 29th of August at Century College.
*In buildup mode of Minnesota’s Beyond The Yellow Ribbon program since 2007. Now entering sustainment mode. We have 95 networks, 212 cities, and 26 counties. 46 Yellow Ribbon companies. Mao Clinic has just been added to the list. In sustainment mode, we are making sure that we have connected all of our resources to our Yellow Ribbon Networks. We obtained a grant through the American Legion Auxiliary to bring on two Americorp Vista members. Hopefully we will be able to get the grant again next year for greater Minnesota. With the Yellow Ribbon Companies, we have started integrating a new Standard Operating Procedure. We are able to tap into the volunteers at the Yellow Ribbon Companies to match soldiers with someone in the industry they are interested in to act as mentors. We are hoping to expand this process.
*When any service member goes through MEPS, we have received permission to send them a card and a letter, encouraging them to fill out the card. The card will then be collected by the MDVA, who will then get them back to us, and then we will get them to the Yellow Ribbon networks.
*Last year our congressional delegation passed a directive in the National Defense Act that there be established a national commission on the future of the Army. That commission was established and will be conducting a meeting here in Minnesota sometime in August. They will likely have a public meeting in a hotel somewhere in the Twin Cities. If anyone is interested in participating, there will be opportunities for that. Website link

Q. You have been developing manuals for the entire country on how to do this?
A. Yes. We have been very transparent about this. We have sent this to other states.

Q. We’re having the same problem in Elk River of not having an armory there, and not being able to contact people. We can’t reach people because we don’t know where they are. Is that going to change?
A. I doubt it, because of privacy laws in effect at the state and federal level. The only way to get around that is to ask service members to reach out to their local communities. We can’t provide the contact information back to the Yellow Ribbon Companies.

Q. Can we get through to General Nash to have his people inform their folks that they need to be in contact?
A. We are already doing that.

Q. Are you allowed into Reserve centers? Do you have a desk there?
A. We participate in their events, but don’t have a physical presence there.

MN Assistance Council For Veterans (MACV) Kathy Vitalis
            *Legal clinics were in Redwood Falls on July 7th. They are in Fargo on the 8th. There is a Minneapolis clinic on July 14th.
*Major Metro stand-down on August 5th.
*MACV dinner on September 18th, celebrating MACV’s 25th year. More information will be available on website soon.
*Had our women’s golf event at the Prestwick. Will be having a meeting to go over improvements for next year.
*Another golfing event, this one co-ed, with be the 7th Annual Arcade Phalen American Legion Classic. It will take place on Saturday, September 19th at the Phalen golf course.
*Got the three year SSV grant focused on Hennepin county

Q. Any chance of getting the February homelessness headcount changed to summertime?
A. Not at this time.
Q. What can we do to help get this changed?
A. It’s a federal issue, so take it up with the federal representatives.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser
            *Don’t have date yet for next meeting – likely in September
            *We appreciate the support we’ve had this year, and intend to do so again this year

            3.) Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves -  Reporting by Peter Panos PAO - Ron Woolery
            *September 1 is Military Appreciation Day at the State Fair
            *Nationally, the rating claims inventory has gone down from a peak of 884,000 in July 2012 to 386,000 now. The national backlog of any claims waiting over 125 days is down to 128,000 from a peak of 611,000. Nationally today veterans are waiting about 163 days or less for a decision. It used to be 282 days. Nationally we have already completed over a million claims this year. This is 18 days earlier than last year.
            *Locally, our rating inventory here in St. Paul is 18,730 claims. This includes compensation, pension, and the regional access center. The average days pending for claims in St. Paul is 97.3.
            *We had a town hall in Duluth in partnership with the VHA on June 25th. Good turnout.
            *The next town hall is in the planning phases.
            *C123 Project for Air Force veterans that flew C123s that were used to deploy Agent Orange. Many of them have come down with Agent Orange related health issues, but because they weren’t in-country, they were not considered eligible. This was changed on June 18th, 2015. The VA published new regulations that gave them the same benefits as veterans who had been in country. All those claims will be worked in St. Paul. A special email and telephone hotline have been established for this. We don’t have the numbers yet.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy - Director VISN 23 - Reporting by Chris Stromberg
            *We’ve seen about 5,300 more veterans this year over last year. In Minneapolis we are up 1,500, in St. Cloud we are up in equal number. Strong growth in our CVSCs, which is a positive indicator of the investment in building our access. Maplewood and Superior are showing robust growth. Our relative value units nationwide are up 17% for services we provide in house. They are up 12% for care we are purchasing in the communities. There is a lot of demand and we are doing our best to meet it.
            *To date we have hired about 350 people over this point in time last year. 86% are clinical professionals. 95% of the appointments we’re scheduling for veterans are done within 30 days. The average wait time for primary care is 3.8 days in the network versus 7.8 nationally. For specialty care it’s 7.1 versus 9.2 nationally. For mental health we’re at 2.8 days versus 4.2 nationally.
            *Treatment of Patients with Hepatitis C. We have purchased about $40 million worth of the new drug that prevents Hepatitis C this year. We have treated about 1500 veterans in the network with that money.
            *Increased workload and demand comes at a cost. Budgetary shortfall throughout the VHA nationwide, estimated at about 2.5 billion. This led to hearings in congress. The outcome of those hearings is so far inconclusive. The feedback suggests that congress is willing to work with us to meet our funding needs through the rest of the year, though it remains a work in progress. In the meantime, we are operating on a conservative budget in regards to discretionary funding. We are doing what we can to stretch our budget.
            *We are trying to reroute our demand for traditional care in the community, which we have managed through non-VA care programs, into the Choice Program. The Choice Program was legislated last year. The Choice Program works with a third party administrator - ours is Health Net - to reroute our need for patients in the community. This provides access to Choice Funding. There are eligibility requirements.
            *The implementation of the Choice Program has not gone smoothly. We are working through the issues. The biggest issues are delays in care and building the provider network.

Q. What about if it was blow up and went to a fee based non-VA care system and you guys managed that with the VA? The network is making lots of money on this but the veterans are not being served.
A. That’s the way we used to do it, but we can’t anymore because of a law that was passed last year.

Q. And I recognize the $10 billion is just sitting there, since so few people have access to the program?
A. Correct.

Mpls VA HCS - Director Patrick J Kelly - Reporting by Mike Rosecrans - Leg. Liason
            *Brought copies of the annual St. Cloud report if needed.
            *Increased enrollment in the Minneapolis VA. We ended 2014 with 100,777 unique patients, making us one of the 10 or 12th largest VA centers in the country.
            *The co-pay controversy collection effort is on hold right now. A response to the congressional delegation is in development.
            *We opened up a new VA eye clinic on the 6th on the second floor 2E.
            *Last Thursday the Mankato VA clinic was officially renamed the Lyle C. Pearson Community Clinic.
            *MACV Stand Down. We have a dental and primary care clinic there. These are volunteer physicians.
            *Top Doctors issue for the Metro area. Several are VA doctors.
            *Upcoming on Sunday and Monday in the Star Tribune will be a two-part series on chronic pain care at the Minneapolis VA center. We are hoping the articles will be balanced.
            *To track the success of the co-pay program with Choice, go to healthnet.org to see the progress

St. Cloud VA HCS - Director Barry Bahl -Reporting by David Hintgen
            *Currently pouring the footings for the new kitchen.
            *No change on the wind turbine.
            *We’ve seen just over 34,000 unique patients at our facility. We are up about 4% from last year. Our appointments under 30 days stand at about 98.5%.
            *Women’s health visit last month. We did well there.
            *Joint commission was at our facility on the 18th and 19th and there were no findings.
            *We will be participating in the Mental Health Summit on the 21st at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn.
            *Provider recruitment continues to be a significant challenge, but we are adding providers.
           
Q. The big hole we had next to the auditorium [...]
A. That’s where the footings are going in.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Robert Roser
            Not present

Vets Employment & Training Service [VETS] - Director, Scott Mills - Reporting by David Seay
            *Lull in the Uniform Services Employment Reemployment Rights Act investigations. Our outreach has decreased this year because of budgetary constraints. We have seen an increase in technical assistance questions from both employers and employees, which is the ideal situation.
            *Get in touch sooner than later for Stand Down questions. The number is 651 529 7511.
            *Department of Labor Tribal Outreach Initiative proposal is currently being revised.

End of Public Meeting

Business Meeting:
Treasurers Report
            *We need to do collections
            *As of the 1st of July, our balance at the 1st of June was $4,655.28. No deposits were made during the month and we had our usual parking expenses and the transportation expense of $120. The total expenses were $157.19. The balance as of July was $4,498.09.
            *Motion accepted

New Business
            *The interaction between the Veterans Legislative Council and the Commander’s Task Force needs to improve. We need to be there when they inaugurate the new leaders. They are not coming to our meetings.
            *Want to get Veterans Day On The Hill on the 1st or 2nd week of the session, rather than at the end.  
            *General tenor of the legislature is frustrating for everyone. Much harder for the parties to get together and for administrators to meet with the legislators. Not sure what to do about this. We need better leverage and to be more effective.
*Ask Dettmer and Anderson to push the Veterans Omnibus Bill back to the front.
*Need to get email accounts up to date - who are the contact people for each organizations? Need to take down blockers on large attachments.

Business Meeting adjourned