Meeting Minutes for June 2015

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Meeting Minutes - June 3, 2015

Pete Phillipi, Assistant Veterans Service Center Manager for Regional VA Office

Apologizes that the director could not come in person
Director Kim Graves, sends her regards.
The National Compensation and Pension claims backlog: in March 2013 it was 688,000 and yesterday it was 143,000.
Veterans Service Center has gone from 180 employees to 290.
St Paul goal is 3400 decisions a month.
St Paul VA is the highest producing in the nation.
Amount of days to complete a decision has been reduced.
Expect to transition to National Work Queue by end of September this year.
Recently hired 39 temporary employees to help with the backlog.
Next town hall meeting is June 25 in Duluth. Same people seem to show up at town hall meetings, but the VA cannot address individual issues in that forum.
Do you get reimbursement for picking up extra cases from around the country?
The temporary hires are under the regional VA management and working on a national caseload, versus a Minnesota one. Because of this, Minnesota now has a higher capacity to deal with claims.
Are you still doing mandatory overtime?
 Yes, we are still doing mandatory overtime in the Veterans Service Center, but not in the Pension Management Center (as of June 1). 

Barry Bahl, for VISN 23 and St Cloud VAMC

(St Cloud director since 1992)
[Power point presentation and hand out.]
Chris Summers from VISN 23 couldn’t be here.
National VA is reorganizing to five regions.
In our region Chicago will be the primary and Minneapolis will be secondary headquarters.
Will end up with 18 VISNs.
VA is downsizing staff in Washington.
Should hear results of that soon.
St. Cloud VAMC leading in growth with a 4.98% increase in patient care.
Under Veterans Choice we have lost some patients.
Veterans Choice is a real problem.
Congress created the program and then VA running it based on laws congress made.
It is for veterans who are waiting more than 30 days for care.
Goes back 7 or 8 months
System has a lot of money and is not being used.
It’s for care outside the VA, but there are not enough outside providers.
It has a Third Party Administrator (congress wrote this into the law).
Bulk of the money has gone to third party administrators.   
A system that used to work in a matter of days is now taking months
Congress is blaming the VA for this. [references slide]
Most veterans spoken to would rather wait for the next appointment than use Veterans Choice.
There is a waiting list for care and people have urgent needs that are not being met
[referencing data on slides]
VA is short $4 billion, has all these resources that cannot be accessed.
Our facilities are broke.
Minneapolis VA is not getting referrals, could close cardiology unit.
Can’t get referrals to specialty clinics.
Minneapolis could lose its accreditation as a teaching hospital.
Secretary of the VA and other people are trying to reinstall confidence in the VA.
They want to focus on involving volunteers.
New events rolling out throughout the years.
Want to increase number of volunteers and instill humanity into the groups.

Re: St Cloud VAMC:
Saint Cloud has doubled number of employees in the last 15 years.
It’s hard for to get providers in rural areas.
The VA has raised the pay scale but has provided no actual money.
We do get some medical people who are at the end of their career but that only helps for 5 years or so.
University of Minnesota provided 35 medical interns, all but one went into specialties.
Construction contracting is centralized now.
Our new nursing home has 225 beds.
Construction is moving quickly.
Project started in 2011 but had contracting issues but it should be done soon.
Building 111for low-income veterans will start soon.
Supposed to start soon
Additional clinic space up in Brainerd [?]
New computer center.
Infusion center should be done next month
Building 9 and 28 starting construction
Will be adding nurses station, amenities, monuments for different veterans groups
Building 115 has been opened [referencing site plan on slides]
Water replenishing system has to be done under the parking lot.
Map showing all the things that have been planned.
Almost every building will be getting some kind of upgrades.
Adding more rooms/space to the nursing home.
Number of people over 80 is going to double soon.
Will have new parking ramp out front.

How do we rectify the provider recruitment?
The biggest thing we can do is support the Secretary of the VA and that he be given the authority to use the money the way it needs to be used. The secretary changed the pay scale for providers when he first came in by raising it and didn’t give us any money. If we don’t have any money, how can we pay a higher pay scale? Ask for the authority to use Veterans Choice money to solve this problem.
Question: Can you put this argument in one page and send it to us?
I can describe what we need. You are the ones who can advocate changes.
Question: What will happen when Veterans Choice money runs out? It will come out of the hospital’s pocket?
Answer: Veterans Choice does not have continuation funding.
Number of St. Cloud patients moved their care to Northwest Metro CBOC.
Minnesota is one of the 10 largest VA centers in the country.
6.2% of patients are now female.
Era of service veterans - population is getting younger; largest group is Vietnam veterans.
Summer service - add 200 volunteers in Minneapolis.  
Rely heavily on veterans service organizations, need to broaden out to the general public.
Re: Choice Program is administered by Health Net.
Search by provider in Minnesota.
Dermatologists are very busy.
[In some cases] our payment schedule is 55% of the going rate.
Can’t force private doctors to see veterans.
Lots of media coverage on Kare11 television.
Veteran gets hearing aid.
We can’t discuss individual patients.
Congressman weighed in.
Hoping to get permission to tell story.

Minneapolis construction projects:
Emergency care: 1 year renovation in three phases.
Just started phase 2.
Will have 3 more van rooms.
3 isolation rooms (for Ebola cases, etc.)
Larger waiting area and direct access from parking lot .       
Our new eye clinic will have 33 exam rooms. Used to be 18.
Go to Common Bond website to register homeless veterans for 58 units of housing at the five building historic Upper Post.
First building will be ready in January.
Project was launched 2+ years ago and is coming to completion.
Should be a lot of attention and huge impact for homeless veterans.
UMN nursing school graduated 20 nurses who had interned at the VA.
5 of the 20 have applied to come back to the VA.
All of them have been exposed to veterans and will be sensitive to their needs.
The intern nursing class is filled every year.
[Refer to handout: Minneapolis VA Health Care System 2014 Annual Report.]

Brad Butler for Fort Snelling Cemetery:

For Memorial Day weekend we had approximately 60,000 vehicles on the premises.
St. Thomas Academy came to help set out flags.
We didn’t put flags on all gravesites because the contractor backed out at last moment.
The ceremonies went well.
Month of May:
486 internments
162 were casketed
105 were Army
62 were Navy
23 Air Force
17 Marine Corps
3 Coast Guard
2 Merchant Marines

Question: How many rifle salutes have you done?
Answer: 1,434 to date

Question: How many are buried at Fort Snelling?
Answer: Total internments are just shy of 220,000

Question: What is your capacity?
Answer: We still have plenty of room. We are projected to take us out to 2040, 2050. This depends on how people come to us. We have more room for cremations. Last year we had a 67% cremation rate. If casket rates go up, that will take more space in the grounds.

Question: Are many people using the common burial?
Answer: 67 last month. Percentage wise, rather small. The family tells us what to do.

Alex Schueller for Senator Franken

Senate File 1463 to modify the 40-mile rule.
SF 1462 hotline bill to amend Veterans Choice was unanimously agreed and passed this past week.
Not sure if the house passed the same thing
Going to sign a letter with Senator Manchin of West Virginia.
Proposed forces reduction, would negatively affect the Minnesota National Guard
Annual poetry contest reception for K-12 kids with military connections.

Andrew Mathew for Representative Emmer

Welcome to the 6th district
Calm month concerning veteran issues

Rick Olseen for Representative Noland

Signed onto a couple of bills : Redeployment training, and disabled vet businesses.
Continuing to assist homeless vets.
Congressman is still upset with the veterans bill that passed, because it cut 7,000 from receiving services.

Mike McElhiney for Minnesota State Veterans Affairs

All MDVA bills did pass, received requested and an additional $11 million, all our programs are funded.
Special session looking to convene this Thursday or Friday.
MDVA has a $100 million bonding bill, but I don’t know details.
Expecting a legacy bill.
Incoming audit to examine funds.
Commissioner no longer has authority to close veterans’ homes without legislative approval.
SF 5: Veterans to Agriculture bill, passed and signed on the 22 of May.
Pilot program at Mankato State University.
8 week course to put veterans to work.
If it works well, they will do another pilot program in the seven county metro area.
Support Our Troops account:
            Received grant making authority.
            First quarter to have the first grant meeting convened.
            Set up similar to the Veterans for Veterans organization.
            Slight dip in license plate sales.
People aren’t seeing the funding going back out to veterans – hope that this grant making authority will correct some of that
            Will be following specific grant requirements
Change to the Big Island Trust: Have authority to remove board members.
Honor Flights bill passed.
No tax bill or bonding bill in this session.
Funds were established a year or two back to build veterans homes: $250 thousand
Veteran Owned Small Business laws: Received funding for implementation
            Different, more inclusive initiative was put forward.
            Received funding
Proposed veterans preference act for discharges by municipalities: if fired for cause, and veteran choses a three party panel, the veteran has to pay 50% of costs. However, there were last minute changes and there are inconsistencies in the language.
Question: What about funding the Honor Guard?
Answer: There is funding within the budget specifically allocated for military honor guards. 

Military affairs: Didn’t see anyone

Kathy Vitalis for MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV)

Attended National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in DC last week.
Met a lot of great people, sharing and strategizing.
All though we have issues in Minnesota, it is far worse in almost every other state, and I am grateful to be here.
MACV was chosen for a visit by the Assistant Secretary of Labor, at a future date.
Focus on our homeless veteran reintegration grant and program.
Want to bring key partners in.
About partnerships, not just employment.
Opportunity to arrange a bigger meeting to share how we do it in Minnesota
Next week we were one of 12 grantees in the nation chosen to be visited by key consultants from the Department of Labor to look at how we have implemented our grants.
We have both urban and rural grants, and we are able to explain the rural challenges.: Distance/transportation challenges in rural areas.
(Humorous) Misperceptions of rural Midwest are still out there…
Legal clinics:
June 9 - Minneapolis - VA - 9 to 2
June 17, Mankato Armory, 10-3
June 23, St Cloud VA 10:30 - 3:30
June 16, women’s golf tournament.
Anything raised is going to a fund for women veterans.
Still room for women to sign up to golf
Metro Stand Down: August 4-5.
Boy Scout base camp might have become too small for the event.
May be looking for a bigger spot next year.
Several questions:
Answer: We now have a lower number of homeless veterans.
Answer: We have services, funding, and partners are in place so that when someone has a crisis, they can be effectively and quickly taken care of.

Jerry Kyser for Military Advisory Group (MAG)

A session with $2 billion budget surplus.
No idea what the speaker of the house has put forward for veterans.
Not encouraged by what was said.
Re: Viking Stadium: employed vets were 5%, have dipped to 4%, and veteran owned businesses are below 1%.
Veterans don’t want to join unions or go through the VA system.
Women and minorities are doing just fine.
Veteran owned businesses are hopefully going to get more involved with the second portion of the stadium project.
Honor flights - just had the last one for this year.
Ran out of WWII veterans to fill up the flight.
Will start doing Korea veterans as well.
Am asking people to recruit more WWII and Korea veterans.
Want to do at least 2 more flights next year .
Dedication ceremony of the Family Foundation Memorial at the state capital on June 13th at 10 AM.
Facilitating the Minnesota Vietnam veterans charity for the Twins’ Military Appreciation Day on July 12 at noon:
46 Texans flying 4 B25 bombers: “The sound of freedom”

Ralph Donais for United Veterans Legislative Council:

We need a Veterans Omnibus Bill.
Bills are held up in other committees that have nothing to do with Veterans.
Keep talking with people.
We should pursue this.

Jeff Thielen for Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley

Executive Director of the Military Historical Society of Minnesota.
Has a little state money, lots of local support.
July 18 grand opening Minnesota Voices from Vietnam.
50th anniversary of US involvement in Vietnam.
Minnesota veterans exhibit.
Vietnam reenactors with Vietnam era vehicles.
Will have a WWI exhibit next year - the WWI honor roll is like a high school yearbook.
In the process of making applications of becoming an air force museum.
We are a resource for the community and for Camp Ripley.
Have a lot of unique materials, our library has 15,000 items.
Visitation museums have been declining over the years in the US
We get 40 to 50 school tours a year.
We want to get a museum mobile unit.

Meeting adjourned.