Meeting Minutes for February 2017

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Meeting Minutes - February 1, 2017

  • Call to order - 9:30, Invocation - Pledge of Allegiance
  • Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests
  • Announcements - Ralph Donais, Chairman - Jerry Kyser, Vice Chairman.

1. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veteran Affairs - 2017 Legislative Info - Ben Johnson

*This is the first year of the biennium at the legislature and it is a budget session.

*The Base Budget for all funds for Veterans and Military Affairs is less than 1% of total funds in the state of MN.

*Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs is only $193 million, which is 0.4% of the total general fund appropriation. We are trying to consolidate and consistently improve the programs we have rather than expanding them. In terms of improvements, we are looking at requests for money to operate the new veterans cemetery that is opening in Duluth in the summer of 2018. We are also looking for money to add to our operating base budget to ensure that all our employees are receiving their contractually obligated increases in salary. The demographics of veterans in MN are aging and MDVA and our veterans homes are competing with the healthcare market to stay in the veterans homes. We want the best people to stay with us. We are asking for an operating budget of $2.6 million.

*We are also seeking funds for Repair and Betterment requests for our operational buildings, as well as Asset Preservation requests.

*We need the Truss Bridge at the Minneapolis Veterans Home repaired. It would cost $7.8 million.

*We want to increase hunting and fishing opportunities for disabled veterans. Currently, veterans with 100% disability status receive a free fishing license. The goal is to increase that to include 50% and up. The governor supports this initiative. It would cost $350,000 per year.

*We are looking into an expansion of the MN GI Bill to increase what the bill can be used for. The federal GI bill can be used to pay for testing and certifications, though the MN bill does not currently allow this. We would like to change this so that instead of using an entire month's worth of federal benefits, veterans would be able to tailor their MN GI bill benefits to fit their specific needs.

Q. Is there a way to get Public Safety involved with the bridge issue?
A. We have the support of the Park Board and the City of Minneapolis. The challenge is the cost.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Nathaniel Saltz

*Our oncoming president/CEO will be Major-General Neal Loidolt. He begins work on February 6th.

*Our monthly legal clinic at the Minneapolis VA will be held on February 7th. There will be a clinic in Anoka on March 7th, the second week in March in Mankato, and the third week in March will be in Minneapolis.

*We are adding positions in areas we need additional staffing, including a position in Rochester as an employment outreach case manager, as well as that same position in St. Cloud. We are also the service provider for the newly opened Linden Grove Apartments in St. Cloud, which recently had its ribbon cutting ceremony. There are 37 units for homeless or in crisis veterans. All units are now full.

*We have added a new housing opportunity in Mankato, where we have units of permanent supportive housing and see the need for more transitional housing. The new two-unit housing has opened and is available for this transitional housing. It is our first transitional housing in that part of the state. We are looking at adding more housing opportunities to serve the veteran community going forward.

MN Military Affairs - Annette Kuyper - Major Scott Ingalsbe

*We are being impacted by the hiring freeze currently in place. Our ability to hire technicians is currently suspended. If this continues for much longer, we will likely be negatively impacted.

*General Nash will be traveling to DC in March to meet with our congressional delegation.

*Our legislative priorities are continuing to be updated as we receive more information about new policies.

*The first Joining Community Forces event will be held on March 2nd at Camp Ripley. There will be another on April 25th in St. Paul at Metro State University. These events are free to attend, but you must register ahead of time. These meetings are designed to network, share best practices, build relationships with key support partners and community volunteers, and educate people about military support initiatives.

*On January 29th, we proclaimed Minnesota Sports and Entertainment as our 53rd Yellow Ribbon Company. 

*Currently we have 98 community networks in 220 cities across MN. We are in the process of auditing our networks. A few have been struggling to sustain in their communities. Two reasons have been found for this. First, they do not appear to have a purpose. They do not know what the needs in their area are. Secondly, we rely on volunteer leadership in the communities and there is not always the best commitment. For the communities that are not sustaining, we are giving them the option to shift into a volunteer group to meet needs as they arise. We do not feel we will be negatively impacted by this. 

Vets Employment & Training Service [VETS] - David Seay

*The Veterans Unemployment rate for 2016 ended on a strong note. In December 2016 it was 4.1%, down from 4.8% from the previous year.

*The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Grant is currently in draft; it has not yet been released. This comes out annually. It should be coming out in late February or early March. More information can be found at: 651-259-7511

*Funding for Stand Downs remains for this current fiscal year. Currently it is $7,000 for a one-day event, $10,000 for a two-day or multiday event.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser

*Veterans Day on the Hill is March 20th. We have partnered with County Veterans Service Officers, and the Commander’s Task Force. Meet in the rotunda.

*On the Federal level, small veteran-owned businesses seeking contracts with the Federal Department of Transportation do not receive them because the law states that you have to be economically and socially disadvantaged, and women and minority-owned business have that designation. The Progress in the 21st Century Map (MAP 21), which deals with this issue, has been passed by the House and needs to go through the senate. Currently veterans are not included in the president's plan to set aside money for disadvantaged small businesses. We are actively working with the American Legion and other groups to make sure this gets in front of the senate again. More information will be forthcoming in March. We are feeling positive about this issue moving forward this year.

*The next MAG meeting will be on February 20th.

MN Paralyzed Veterans of America - Todd Kemery

*We are making sure to appear on Capital Hill at least twice a week. Your support would be welcome and we are available to help if your organization wants more people for meetings or presentations. Currently we are working to raise funding for TBI and SI.

Women Veterans Initiative  - Jill Trotner

*Not present.

2. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves

*The hearing for our secretary nominee will be on February 1st at 1:30 PM.

*The federal hiring freeze is impacting the VA regional office, they have not offered us any exemptions. There have been some exemptions on the healthcare side and with the national cemetery. We were able to bring on a number of new employees before the freeze was implemented, however. We are getting a lot of support from legislatures and veterans groups.

Q. Will the Camp Lejeune claims be segregated at one benefit's office?
A. Currently they are already being done at one regional office, Louisville. I am not sure whether that is going to be expanded or not.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy - Director VISN 23 - Andre Kok

*We have a list of 70+ career fields that the acting secretary has deemed to be exempt from the hiring freeze. Further consideration to exempt further career fields is expected, especially anyone the department deems necessary for public health and safety, including frontline caregivers.

*The changes in copay for prescription benefits will take effect this month.

MPLS VA HCS - Director Patrick J. Kelly - Mike Rosecrans

*We are now treating 103,551 patients at the Minneapolis VA, an increase of about 1,200.

*The Salute to Hospitalized Veterans will be on February 14th at 9:30 AM on the second floor.

*The next town hall is March 29th from 6:00--8:00 PM at the North St. Paul VFW Post 13-50.

*Today we have started the Walk of Honor. After a veteran dies in one of our facilities, we honor them with a Walk of Honor that acknowledges their service and sacrifice to our nation.

St. Cloud VA HCS - Director Cheryl Thieschafer - Barry Venerable

*The town halls are co-hosted by the regional VA office. They can serve as points of contact as well.

*We have a new acting director, Mark Aberle. This will be in effect until a new permanent director is announced.

*We have about 40 vacancies that do not meet the exemptions to the hiring freeze.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - John Knapp
            *Not present.

3. Federal Congressional Representatives

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Greg Swanholm

*The Faster Care for Veterans Act was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It is a pilot program that allows veterans to use technology, including smartphones, to interface with the VA system and increase the speed of the processes.

*The Chip-In For Vets Act was also passed. This sets up a pilot program letting local communities manage and work with the construction of VA facilities.

*No Veterans Crisis Line Call Go Unanswered Act was also passed.

*The Wingman Act has been passed, which allows caseworkers to access VA files directly for greater effectiveness.

*The senator signed onto a letter asking that all VA employees be exempted from the hiring freeze.

*There was a 934th  Air Wing deployment ceremony that the senator attended.

*We sent out 47 Service Academy nominations.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller

*We will be reintroducing several bills this session, including the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, The National Guard 12304 Bravo Benefits Parity Act (this will have several changes), Senator Klobuchar's Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act, as well as signing onto the letter asking the hiring freeze be lifted for essential positions in the VA, as well as a letter asking the president to lift the ban on social immigrant visas for interpreters and other allied members of the population of Iraq and Afghanistan that helped troops on the ground.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser

*Not present.

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis

*Not present.

3rd District Representative - Erik Paulsen - Margret Cavanaugh

*We had a reception for the Service Academy nominees. This year we had no nominees to the Merchant Marines, though we received 10 for the US Military Academy, 10 for the Naval Academy, and 10 for the Air Force Academy.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland

*The congresswoman is supporting HR 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017, which would expand Agent Orange coverage to include the territorial seas.

*The congresswoman is supporting HR 632, to provide treatment for veterans who participated in the atomic waste cleanup.

*We have three students who have received Academy appointments, 2 to the Air Force and 1 to the US Military Academy. We will be holding another informational meeting on April 11th at Mounds View High School.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler

*Not present.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Zack Freimark

*Not present.

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie

*Not present.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Rick Olseen

*Not present.

4. Announcements

*Please show up to legislative meetings.
*The Mission Continues group will be joining the meeting in March. They serve the post 9/11 veterans and do extensive community service.
*The capital wants to change the WWI plaque to include all those who served during wartime versus those who saw combat.

5. Meeting in Recess for five minutes

Next meeting Wednesday 1 March, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Treasurer’s Report as of 1 February, 2017, submitted by Treasurer Don Rask

Balance as of 1 January, 2017                                                $3,960.22

Deposits for January, 2017                                                     $100.00

Expenses for January, 2017
            Transcription Expenses:          $120.00
            Postage Expense:                    $14.70                         ($134.70)                                                                                
Balance as of 1 February, 2017:                                             $3,925.52

*Currently we have 33 organizations attached to the UVLC, 5 of which are non-pay. 5 have already paid their dues.

*The UVLC's position on the Property Tax Bill 71:
            Need more data
            Information we need: what is the need, who is making the arguments?
            The County Veteran Services are pushing against it

*The Tax Credit bill for hiring a disabled veteran (70%) is $3,000. The credit for an unemployed veteran is $1,500. This has been brought up three years in a low. It was originally brought forward by Representative Wills.

*Veterans Day at the Capital. It was requested we chip in some money to support it. We will commit $250.

*There has some talk about letting veterans use their ID cards to get into commissary and base exchanges. We do not have enough information about this to comment. We should advocate for the advanced drivers license.

*Motion to spend up to $300 on legislative priority cards passed.

End of Report