Meeting Minutes for April 2016

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Meeting Minutes - April 6, 2016

Call to order - 9:30 Jerry Kyser, Vice Chairman.

1. Federal Congressional Representatives
Senator Amy Klobuchar - Reporting: General (RET) Tim Cossalter
*In March, Klobuchar introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act (SF 2679). The bill states that the VA will provide medical treatment to all veterans identified as part of the Burn Pit Registry, as established by the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2012. We are encouraging people to sign up for the Burn Pit Registry in order to spread awareness and gather more information.
*Secretary McDonald visited the senator.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller
*Not present.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz -Reporting: Shawn Schloesser
*Walz has been working on removing the age restriction for 20 years or more for those service members who served in the National Guard Reserve. Normally, those in the Reserve do not receive their retirement benefits until age 60.  Active Duty service members receive their benefits once they officially retire. Walz is attempting to change this so that members of the Reserve can collect their retirement when they are eligible, versus when they turn 60. This would not start until January of 2018 and would impact future service members.
*Walz submitted a Fairness For Veterans Act, which would help service members who were discharged from the military with evidence of PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury), but who were discharged for minor, unrelated infractions (speeding, DWI, etc.). This would impact 20,000 service members from the Army alone.
*Walz is chairing the Special Operations Caucus, which is meant to help Special Operations Service Members and their families to make sure that their needs and interests have a voice in congress.
*There was a recent roundtable discussion about current issues to ensure that the current reforms are on the right track. Further discussions will be forthcoming.

2nd District Representative - John Kline - Reporting: Chaz Johnson
*Kline is co-sponsoring HR 4534, the POSTURE Act (Protecting Our Security Through Utilizing Right Sized End Strength). This bill will establish minimum levels for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps active components to reverse the drawdown of forces, in particular land forces, in the president’s budget.
*Kline will also be introducing legislation about troop flexibility.
*Kline is not running for reelection, so there will be a spring Service Academy information session on April 25th at the Burnsville Diamondhead Education Center.

3rd District Representative - Eric Paulsen -Reporting: Margret Cavanaugh
*Present, but nothing to report.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum -Reporting: Connie Haddeland
*Met with the National Guard to discuss educational benefits – service members deploying now will not receive the same benefits as those who deployed during a "named" conflict. There are also some budget concerns, especially related to the Arden Hills Readiness Center.
*There will be a Service Academy information meeting during the week of April 11th. We have 14 young people from the 4th District that received Academy appointments this year.  

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Reporting: Mike Siebenaler
*Ellison has signed onto 224 different letters requesting funding for various veteran and military related issues so far this spring. More information will be provided once the results start to come in.
*Co-sponsoring HR 37-75, the Military Save Act, which would allow returning female veterans who have been victims of military sexual assault to use outside-VA facilities, at VA expense.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Reporting: Ander Matthews
*Introducing Abby Rime.
*Emmer had a private meeting with the secretary of the VA, which went well.
*The St. Cloud VA completed the federal mediation program. Our office will continue to monitor that.
*Emmer met with the VA office of Medical Examinations.
*Deciding on final Service Academy appointments.

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Reporting: Meg Louwagie
*Peterson has been visiting several VA homes, including one in Fergus Falls.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Reporting: Rick Olseen
*Nolan attended the presidential Cuba trip.
*Nolan is involved with adding a mental health shortcut to the VA emergency hotline.
*Will be doubling up on McCollum’s Service Academy Information Night on April 11th.

State of Minnesota Senator Jim Carlson
*There are roughly 7500 bills between the House and the Senate, and about 3,500 that have been introduced to the Senate in the last year. The end of this two year session is midnight on May 23rd. There will be a lot of trade-offs when that happens.
*There is a bill on the table to provide funds for veterans housing for nonprofit groups. It would provide interim housing for veterans who cannot get into the veterans home who still need a place to go.
*There has been a deadline extension for home filing, a deadline extension for vehicle registration tax, and providing veterans state park fee wavers.
*Working on a regulation to demand that organizations inform veterans who want to apply their GI educational benefits whether or not they are certified before money exchanges hands.

2. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations
MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito - Reporting: Ben Johnson
*Building 21 had its grand opening at the beginning of March. We are now moving to begin demolition of Building 17 South in anticipation of construction of a new building.
*There will be a dedication ceremony at the Minnesota Veterans Cemetery in Preston on Sunday, May 29th. There will be a fly-over. This will be the second state veterans cemetery in Minnesota. The pre-ceremony concert will begin at 1:30 PM and the ceremony itself will start at 2:00 PM.
*Announcing the opening of the SOAR office. It is an opportunity for us to assist veterans looking to get the SSI and SSDI applications submitted. We are using it primarily to start with the homeless veterans initiatives we have been working on.
*The first committee deadline for the state legislature has passed. There have been more than 50 veteran related bills introduced already this year, in addition to the 70+ bills introduced in 2015. The second deadline is April 8th, 2016. The third deadline is at the end of April.
*Appropriations for Veterans Home Construction is a $16 million appropriation for Montevideo and Bemidji focused on the construction of new homes. We are looking at 144 new beds. There is a problem of perceived need, as the 144 beds puts Minnesota in Priority Group 1.7, with 60 projects ahead of us. New bed construction is funded only after health and safety concerns are dealt with in existing homes. However, this is being worked on, and the house and senate are working on the first part, which is establishing the bonding of funds.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Reporting: Nathaniel Saltz, Interim Director
*Upcoming legal clinics are April 12th at the Minneapolis VA, at the Flag Atrium Balcony, April 20th in Hastings, and April 27th in Brainerd. More information on the website.
*There will be a Stand Down on April 28th at Fergus Falls.
*Our outreach and case management staff have moved from Building 47 to a new office at 2700 East Lake Street. There is now more space and opportunity for private sessions.
*Kathleen Vitalis is no longer with MACV. The board of directors requested a change in leadership. Nathaniel Saltz will be serving as the interim Executive Director while the board searches for a permanent candidate.

MN Military Affairs - Reporting: LTC Joe Sharkey - Don Kerr
*2015 Annual Report has been published.
*The 148th Fighter Wing out of Duluth will be deploying 300 to 400 Airmen to South Korea in support of a theater security package. The duration of their deployment is anticipated to be anywhere from 3 to 4 months, but could change.
*Colonel Johanna Clyborne was promoted to Brigadier General, the first female Army general in our command.
*The House of Representatives is moving much more deliberately than the Senate at the moment concerning veterans legislature. It will be difficult to discern what will happen with this legislative session until May 23rd.
*We have submitted a Bonding request and a Supplemental Budget request. They have been heard in the Senate but not in the House. We are prepared to have them heard by the House.
*In the process of building a $19 million, 100% federally funded armory in Still Water. The city of Still Water is unhappy with the idea of paying the proposed amount of money for the property – its appraised value – and their members of the legislature are attempting to introduce a related bill to the House and the Senate. The bill will not be getting a hearing in the House, but apparently will be heard in the Senate. We will be arguing that this is not in the interest of the people of Minnesota to short circuit the existing laws.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser, Co-Chair
*There was a meeting with Representative Dettmer last week discussing various bills, including the Omnibus Bill. We invite the Democratic and Republican Caucuses to become more involved with MAG.
*The next MAG meeting will be April 11th at 9:00 AM.
*We feel Omnibus HF848 is very important.
*We are working on limiting taxes on military pensions, as most retired veterans are looking to return to the civilian workforce. Wisconsin has already done this.
*Minnesota has been losing taxpayers since 2002 over the age of 35. We need to replace them – possibly with second-career veterans. Please discuss this with your organizations and legislatures.
[Bob Smith provided a handout providing further information on this topic.]

3. Federal Agencies
VA Regional Office - Kim Graves, Director
*VA Secretary McDonald visited on the 24th of March. Bottom line, his focus is on helping to improve the veteran experience.
*At the end of February, the St. Paul Regional Office was one of eight regional offices in the country to start using the National Work Queue. The way that this is set up, the majority of the time Minnesota veterans’ claims will come to St. Paul. A case may go to another office if we are at capacity.  The rest of the regional offices are expected to implement this in rolling phases beginning at the end of April.
*On March 29th, the VA Regional Office, along with hundreds of other VA Facilities, hosted a commemoration event for the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. We were able to recognize about 175 Vietnam veterans for their service.
Q. I’ve noticed that Minnesota tends to get a lot of overflow of other states that can’t handle their workload. Is this National Work Queue going to dump more work on Minnesota?
A. It makes the process better. For many years we have moved work around to try and level out the workload across the country to improve service for veterans. 10, 15 years ago this was done by mailing folders across the country. The National Work Queue assigns work based on capacity. It is a much more efficient system.
Q. Will our Veteran Service Offices, who work in the same building, have access to what’s going on? If they start shifting files around, does that mean that Minnesota files might go somewhere else? Then veterans wouldn’t have that access.
A. The way the system is set up, the first place that a Minnesota veteran’s case should go is right here. 99% of the time those cases are coming here, from what we have seen so far. Because it is entirely electronic now, once a case gets worked or a rating decision is made, it pops up in the queue of the appropriate service organization. Service organizations have also been participating in the design and development of the system to make sure that these relationships are preserved.

VISN 23 - Patrick Kelly, Acting Director VISN 23 - Reportng: Andre Cook
*Patrick Kelly, the Minneapolis VAMC Director, is still the network Acting Director.
*There will be a new Pharmacy Benefits Manager beginning on May 1st.
*Actively recruiting a Human Resources Officer, a Chief Medical Officer, and a Clinical Informatics Officer.
*VISN staff recently met with HealthNet to discuss Veterans Choice and some of the concerns that have been raised there. The meetings were largely positive. HealthNet wants to restore trust and share information. Contractual changes have also been made to address the delays that we have been hearing about in the Choice process.

MPLS VA HCS - Director Patrick J. Kelly -Reporting: Mike Rosecrans
*On March 9th, the VA announced that they were now able to fund care for all veterans with Hepatitis C for the FY26, regardless of the stage of the patient’s liver disease.
*Our chronic pain program recently moved into a new space. All pain services are now centrally located.
*May 23rd is VA Research Day. The keynote address will be at noon in the auditorium and a poster session from 1:00 to 3:00 PM in the Flag Atrium.

St. Cloud VA HCS - Director Barry Bahl -Reporting: Atlas Anagnos
*The VA Secretary came and spoke about his 12 Breakthrough Priorities.
*We continue to work to improve Choice and care in the community. There is now a 1-800 number for any veteran that is having billing issues due to Choice (1-877 881 7618).
*A lot of our improvements are awaiting legislative action.
*The St. Cloud leadership and the union completed their mediation, but the process is still ongoing.
*The renovations to the community living center in Building 49 should be finished sometime in May. The new kitchen that is being constructed to make more room for a primary care clinic should be completed this fall.
 Q. What month are we going to have the UVLC meeting up in St. Cloud?
A. I will ask. Likely June, July, or August.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery John Knapp, Director
*We are the 4th busiest cemetery in the nation in terms of internment workload.
*There were 361 internments in the month of March. There was a 65% cremation rate, 35% casketed rate. This brings our fiscal year total to 2,238, which is a 1% increase over what we’ve seen in the past five years. We interned 6 female veterans in March.
*Memorial Day is coming up on May 30th. We have received a tentative RSVP from the governor’s office. The event will start at 9:45 AM. The guest speaker this year will be Brigadier-General Kelly (RET).
*Other organizations have tried to put something together to put flags on the graves, which is not something that the Ft. Snelling Cemetery does as an organization. A local resident, Joanne Malmstedt, has started her own grass roots program – Flags for Ft. Snelling - to do that. Feel free to visit her website (http://flagsforfortsnelling.com/) and donate.
*We are working on Millennium Projects to renovate turf in the cemetery.
*There is a new program called Pre-Need, where a veteran can contact the cemetery to see if they are eligible to be buried in Ft. Snelling prior to the time of need to help with end of life planning.
*There will be a booth at the Memorial Day event handing out pins for the Vietnam Commemoration event.

Q. How long do you think you’ll be able to handle this level of internments?
A. At the current rates and types of burials, we have plans out to 2060. At that point we would still be open, but the types of burials would change.

Vets Employment and Training Services [VETS] - David Seay
*Overall unemployment rate for veterans in March of 2016 is 4.5%.
*Unemployment rate for male veterans overall was lower than for female veterans in 2015. The unemployment rate for male veterans decline to 4.5% and the rate for female veterans remained steady at 5.4%.
*Among the 495,000 unemployed veterans in 2015, 57% were age 45 and over. About 37% were age 25 to 44. 5% were from 18 to 24.
*Veterans with service-connected disability had an unemployment rate of 5.4% in August of 2015, not statistically different from veterans with 0% disability.
*More than 1 in 3 employed veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector in August 2015, compared with about 1 in 5 veterans with no disability.
*In 2015, the unemployment rate of veterans varied across the country, ranging from 1.9% in Iowa up to 7.7% in the District of Columbia.

Women Veterans Initiative -Reporting: Jill Troutner
*There are over 550 women veterans license plates on the road now.
*The Veterans Resilience Project partnered with the Women Veterans Initiative for the Strong Women Telling Stories About Strong Women fundraiser, which raised enough money to put two veterans on the treatment waitlist.
*There were 15 nominations for Women Veteran of the Year. The selection committee will be meeting this month. The award will be presented in June at the MNDVA Salute to Women Veterans conference.
*During the week of April 11th, a MST Legal Education Day Conference is being put on by the Mitchel-Hamline Veterans Association School of Law. Two board members will be attending.
*On April 21st, the Minnesota Humanities Center will be hosting a fundraiser for Veterans Voices.
*An information event for the Veterans Voice Award will be held at the MN Humanities Center on April 15th from 4:00 to 5:00 PM.
*The MOTH Community and Education Program has a storytelling program to help veterans learn how to become public speakers. The application deadline is April 21st.
*The National Endowment for the Humanities has granted Veteran Voices $100,000 for Dialogs On The Experiences of War, which is a literature program that will talk about how war is memorialized versus how war is experienced.

AFSC Center and Volunteer Information -Reporting: John Kinger
*New security has been installed at the Armed Forces Center. Those entering the center will have to be buzzed in.
*This is a busy time for volunteers at the Armed Forces Center.
*The Medal of Honor annual meeting is taking place in October, and we will be on guard in the airport to welcome those recipients.

Q. Do you allow retired service members to use the center?
A. We do, effective since last summer.

MN Paralyzed Veterans of America -Reporting: Stephen Thell
*We need legislative support. Last year our topic of focus was disability and social security possibly having a deduction. Thankfully the budget was balanced. This year we have the Air Carriers Act, which was signed into law by President Regan. This was supposed to act like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Unfortunately it has lost steam over the years and the airlines are doing a poor job of following the Air Carriers Act.
*Though we support Veterans Choice, it does not currently provide the same level of care as the local clinics for spinal cord injuries. This needs to change.
*There is a Vietnam Veterans Picnic on April 8th for our members and are going to conduct site visits of all the spinal cord injury centers.

4. Announcements: Next UVLC meeting May 4, 2016

5. Business Meeting:
UVLC Treasurer’s Report as of 1 April, 2016

Balance as of 1 March, 2016 $4,109.38
Deposits for March, 2016 $200
Expenses for March
Transcription $120
MAG/UVLC Legislative Agenda cards $183.39
($303.39)
Balance as of April 1, 2016 $4,005.99

*There are currently 33 members total in the UVLC, 4 of which are nonpaying. Of the 29 remaining, 16 have paid their dues for the year. 13 are still to be paid.

Submitted by Donald Rask, Treasurer UVLC
Other Items:
*Burn Pit Summit needs to be discussed.

*New leadership of MACV should also be discussed.

*The Medal of Honor Conference is from October 4th to the 8th in the state of Minnesota, and includes a fly-over. Although UVLC and MAG sponsored the application to have Minnesota as the 2016 venue, we find that we veterans have not been included in the October events. We are seriously concerned about this. Local civilian women, with no military experience, are the agents for this Medal of Honor Conference, and they don’t share our priorities,
*UVLC position: the UVLC is on record as supporting the Medal of Honor Conference event. Motion that we remind the Medal of Honor program of our official support, and that we clarify our ongoing veteran involvement with the local agents. A letter to this effect will be sent. Motion passed.