Meeting Minutes for July 2017

Minutes Header

Meeting Minutes - July 12, 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. Federal Congressional Representatives

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Kurt Johnson Reporting

*Klobuchar's office worked to push the exhumation and identification of the remains of WWII veteran Jerry Jacobsen.

*Klobuchar will be sponsoring the Ghost Army bill to honor the 31 33rd Signal Service Company for their service in WWII.

*Klobuchar is co-sponsoring the American Legion Centennial Coin Bill, which will be available in 2019.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller Reporting

*Not present.  

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser Reporting

*Not present.

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis - Mathew Pagano Reporting

*Not present.

3rd District Representative - Erik Paulsen - Margret Cavanaugh Reporting

*Not present.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland Reporting

*Not present.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler Reporting

*Not present.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Abby Rime Reporting

*Congress is set to debate and pass the National Defense Authorization Act. The Military Construction Bill has been passed out of the Appropriations Committee, allocated $88.8 billion. An update will be forthcoming next month.

*Our office did a joint meeting with the Office of the Inspector General to discuss our letter to them concerning the doctor's website that the VA had issues with. We are working with them on legislature to try and clear this up.

*Our focus is currently on appropriations and the budget.
7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie Reporting

*Peterson would like to thank the St. Cloud VA for hosting the mental health summit on July 11th.  

*Peterson signed onto the GI bill that will be introduced on July 13th.

*A staffer met with a VA vendor who will be spearheading the new pilot program in Minneapolis VA MC where veteran schedule and cancel is owned.

*Peterson was added to the Family of Fallen Service Members First Act, HR 19 28. This bill secures the death gratuity payment to the next of kin of the service member.

*Peterson was added to HR 3 33, House Resolution 2 19, the Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act, as well as the POW/MIA legislation. He is a co-chair of the military veterans caucus that is hosting a suicide briefing.

Q. Concerning the military bill, what is the probability we could get rid of the sequester?
A. I do not know. I will find out.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Rick Olseen Reporting

*Nolan has signed onto the letter about the family advocates. We are not certain what our action will be moving forward but this is of grave concern to Nolan and others on his staff.

*We still have veterans that are receiving bills from Choice. Issues are ongoing. However, setting up appointments seems to be getting better.

2. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Ben Johnson reporting

* We saw many positive outcomes this legislative session for veterans.

*Clarification: veterans with any level of disability now have access to free annual passes to state parks.

*The Duluth cemetery is scheduled to open in 2018. Another cemetery in SW Minnesota is also on the agenda. We wish to give veterans and their families a way to mourn and make peace without driving great distances across the state.

*The new changes to the GI bill include funding for testing, licensure, and certification.

*Funding was allocated from the bonding bill for the bridge at the Veterans Home. Construction is scheduled to begin in September.

*Funding was received for asset preservation of our cemeteries and veterans homes, though not as much as we would have liked. We have returned to the drawing board and will be submitting new proposals on February 20th.

*July is Hire A Veteran Month.

Q. Where will the new cemetery be located?
A. Redwood Falls.

MN Military Affairs - Major Scott Ingalsbe Reporting

*Not present.

MN Assistance Council For Veterans (MACV) - Neal Loidolt - Brad Legard Reporting

*Not present.

Vets Employment & Training Services [VETS] - David Seay Reporting

*Not present.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser Reporting

*Our last meeting was well attended.

*The Helmets to Hardhats bill got $400,000.

*The Environmental and Resources Bill is now giving out free park passes to veterans with 75 to 100% disability.

*$250,000 was awarded to Veterans to Agriculture, a new pilot program.

*The tax bill still includes the Homestead Value Exclusion, but the surviving spouse exclusion runs out in eight years.

*The Department of Veteran Affairs received the funding they needed for the bridge repairs. The bridge is $7.815 million.

*The next MAG meeting will be August 14th.

*TPT is beginning to fund its legacy effort for Vietnam veterans.

*The Medal of Honor Memorial in front of the veteran services building received funding for repairs and maintenance.  

*The American Legion received $200,00 for Legionville camp.

*The GI bill added an opportunity to include post-secondary training and on the job apprenticeships. We are attempting to make Minnesota more veteran and veteran-business friendly.

*The Duluth cemetery received $1 million in funding.

MN Paralyzed Veterans Of America - Todd Kemery Reporting
*We are preparing for the State Fair Military Appreciation Day. This is our fifth year doing this.

*We were in Marshall recently doing a talk concerning the ADA so that rural America and small businesses understand the current legal landscape. We are interested in helping small businesses from preventing nuisance lawsuits, which do not help us.

Project Got Your Back - Allison Alstrin Reporting

*Not present.

Women Veterans Initiative - Edna Mackenzie Reporting

*Not present.

National Association of Atomic Veterans - Keith Kiefer Reporting

*Not present.

3. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves - Director Gray Reporting

*Secretary Shulkin is working with us to drive down the claims backlog. There are around 93,000 veterans who have been waiting an excess of 125 days for resolution on their claim. This is about 25% of our rating inventory. However, the average rate for completing a claim is 115 days. Currently our rate is 97 days. We are making progress.

*We were asked to pilot a new program, the Decision Ready Claims. For particular claims, a veteran can work with their service officer to prepare that claim up to and including getting in for a CMP exam. Once that information is gathered, the full claim is gathered. We are committed to getting those claims resolved in 30 days. Since this program started in May, we have completed 51 claims in an average of just under 8 days. The program has been expanded to our offices in Texas and will be rolling out to the rest of the country soon.

*In partnership with the St. Cloud VA Medical Center and Minneapolis VA Medical Center, we are working to address an issue of compensation. Veterans are entitled to higher rate of compensation if they have been hospitalized in excess of 21 days or have a period of convalescence after a surgical procedure for a service-connected disability. We have found that those claims were not seen in a timely manner and thus veterans were not getting the funding they needed during the hospitalization or convalescence period. We have worked out a program, sanctioned by our national headquarters, to help identify those veterans who may be entitled to those additional benefits. We have worked out a process where we receive those claims right up front and as soon as a veteran meets the time requirement for the 21 days or period of convalescence, the money is paid. We are hoping to expand this program. Since July 3rd, we have completed 8 veterans claims in about 18 days and currently have 3 more claims pending.

Q. What is the difference between what you do and what VISN does?
A. The VA benefits is responsible for monetary compensation, loan guarantee, vocation and rehabilitation, and insurance. We do non-medical benefits. VISN is an organizational structure responsible for veteran's healthcare.

VISN 23 - Director - Janet Murphy - Jason Petti Reporting

*Not present.

VAHCS Minneapolis - Director Patrick J. Kelly - Ralph Houston Reporting

*Not present.

St. Cloud VA HCS - Director Stephen D. Black Reporting

*In absence of VISN representatives, we will speak to their role. Each VISNs role is different. VISN 23 has a focus on the idea that the VISN should be there to serve the facilities that serve the frontline staff that in turn serve the veterans. Their role is to monitor data and statistics and step in when they see a problem. They help run operations consistently. They help to standardize, lend support, and develop best practices.

*There is a great deal of construction happening right now, specifically with IT, that will help core operations. We are also working on building the new kitchen. Phase 1 of the catena is done. There will be an optometry expansion soon. The work is ongoing and advantageous to the veterans.

*The Access to Care website ( continues to have good numbers. We can offer same day services for primary and mental health care services.

*We continue to be a 5 Star Facility, #2 in the nation.

*We received the Practice Greenhealth Award, one of 25 hospitals in the USA.

*We were recently recognized for our Federal Health Innovation with HealthHub.

*Our mental health team received the 2016 Network Star Award.

*We have received many exceptional survey team reviews.

*We are continuing to work on Choice to include access and quality.

*Modernization efforts are continuing. More information will be forthcoming.

*Continuing to work to provide mental health care to veterans regardless of discharge status. This has always been the case but it has now been codified.

*Our number one clinical goal is to get our suicide numbers down to zero.

*The accountability website lists all individuals by occupation code who have had disciplinary issues across our system. Along with that, the accountability legislation speeds up timeframes of reaction.

*Introducing Sheryl Thieschafer, Acting Chief of Staff Scott Bartley, and Mark Aberle, Associate Director of Patient Care Services.

1--Medical Cannabis

Millions of Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Minnesota is the latest state to offer medical marijuana as a possible treatment option. The Minnesota Health Department’s Office of Medical Cannabis opened enrollment to people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder on July 1, and the state’s eight clinics will open their doors to those new patients in August. This will create questions in the Veteran population. VA policy remains unchanged. Key points for Veterans include:

* Federal Law prohibits VA physicians from prescribing medical marijuana and from completing forms/paperwork necessary for patients to enroll in State marijuana programs. Federal Law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance and Federal employees must comply with Federal law, despite State law allowing marijuana use.

* VA is aware that some Veterans who reside in States with marijuana programs and who receive care in VA, do indeed participate in marijuana programs. Given the differences between State and Federal laws regarding marijuana, a Veteran’s decision to participate in a State marijuana program is a personal one and not one dictated administratively by VA.

* VA does not administratively prohibit VA services to those Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs.  However, in some cases, participation in State marijuana programs may be inconsistent with treatment goals;  therefore, VA clinicians may modify treatment plans for the health of the patient. In these cases, VA promotes shared decision making between provider and patient.

* It is illegal to possess marijuana for any purpose on VA property.

2--Lodging at St. Cloud VA

The St. Cloud VAMC is primarily an outpatient facility with large residential populations in the Community Living Center and Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment program (RRTP).  There is not a lodging facility on campus.  Veterans traveling long distances or with early morning appointments may elect to seek lodging in the community at their own expense. Additionally, via a partnership with St. Cloud Hospital, Veterans may take advantage of the Gorecki House. In limited cases, in-house lodging in the CLC can be provided upon request and as space and resources allow.   

Gorecki House
The St. Cloud Hospital Gorecki (Go-ret’-ski) Guest House welcomes Veterans and family members of patients who are receiving medical care in the St. Cloud community. The house offers a comfortable, homelike atmosphere that allows families the opportunity to stay close to their loved ones. Veterans traveling to St. Cloud for medical appointments or procedures may find the house a comfortable alternative to early morning commutes.  The Gorecki Guest House is conveniently located across the street from the St. Cloud Hospital, at 1309 Sixth Avenue North, in St. Cloud. The Gorecki Guest House does not provide medical care or assistance on site.  For more information, call 320-251-2700, ext. 51774, or visit

In-House Lodging
Temporary in-house lodging (overnight sleeping accommodations) may be provided in the Community Living Center (CLC) as space and resources allow on a first-come, first-served basis for Veterans who meet criteria outlined below. Lodging includes a bed, linens, shared room and bathroom facilities, evening meal and breakfast. Lodging is for one night only from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. In-house lodging does not include caregivers, companions or service animals.

Veterans may qualify for lodging if space is available and:

  • The Veteran has a scheduled clinic appointment or test before noon and travels 100 miles or more than 2 hours to the St. Cloud VAHCS or has transportation difficulties.
  • The Veteran must be able to stay in an unsupervised setting and capable of self-care and administration of his/her medication, as directed by the medical provider.

A Veteran must call or present to the MAA after 4:00 p.m. in Building 111, or call 320-252-1670 and press 0 to determine if lodging is available.

3--Veteran’s Golf Course
In order to continue its operation, in 1990 the City of St. Cloud agreed to manage and operate the VA-owned golf course. The city then made significant course investment and improvements. In 1997 an Enhanced Use Lease agreement was reached whereby the city leased the property for a period of 35 years. This arrangement allowed the City of St. Cloud to renovate the course to its current state and to add a baseball stadium. The property remains U.S. Government Property. The lease agreement includes direct benefits to Veterans,  including several thousand therapeutic rounds of golf for VA resident patients per year; monetary consideration provided to the VAMC in the form of credits for water and sewer services, direct revenue sharing, and availability of high quality recreational opportunities for the community and the Veteran population, at no additional cost to the U.S. Government. This agreement has positive benefits for Veterans, the U.S. Government, and the City of St. Cloud, whose residents have been staunch supporters of the VAMC mission for over 94 years. Notably, the lease also provides an effective encroachment barrier in an ever-growing urban environment.

4--Therapeutic Pool
Built in 1936, the Therapeutic Pool is heated. Average temperature is appx. 98 degrees, and the pool is used to provide therapy for Veterans via clinical referral. It is not a recreational pool. The St. Cloud VA has an agreement with the YMCA of St. Cloud that waives enrollment fees for any Veteran desiring membership. The YMCA operates two heated pools and a variety of other programs where Veterans, family members and members of the community may pursue their wellness and recreational opportunities.  

Veteran's Lake - John Enstrom Reporting

*Veteran's Lake is a private park that has been hosting veterans events since 2005. ( There are 14 monuments, flags for all branches of services, and the first state monument to all veterans killed in Iraq since 9/11.

*August 2nd is Handicapped/Disabled Veterans Fishing Day. We welcome all handicapped veterans across the state to enjoy our facilities.

*We are run on donations and private funds.

Q. Do you coordinate with Veterans on the Lake?
A. No, we do not.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Bob Razor Reporting

*Not present

Vets Employment and Training Services [VETS] - David Seay Reporting

*Nothing to report.

Minnesota District of SCORE - Bill Lion Reporting

*SCORE provides free basics business mentoring. We have been in MN for 53 years. We are mid-pilot with a vet program and will be launching a women-veterans only curriculum in late September. We will also be doing a parallel with ongoing veteran businesses. We are having trouble recruiting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to our organizations and would appreciate your help in spreading the word about our services.

4. Announcements

*The State Fair Veterans Appreciation Day is August 29th.  

*The Honor Flight is looking for St. Cloud veterans to participate.

*The Veterans Voices event will be held on September 11th. Michael Rivard, the UVLC Secretary, is one of the recipients.  

*The James Valentine VFW Post endorsed a project with the help of the Paralyzed Veterans of America to convert a golf course in Minneapolis into a food farm.

5. Meeting in Recess for five minutes

Next meeting August 2, 2017.
Treasurer’s Report as of 12 July 2017

Balance as of 12 June 2017                                                    $3891.00

Deposits for June 2017                                                          

Expenses for June 2017
            Transcription Expense             $120.00
            Postage                                    $9.80

Balance as of 12 July, 2017                                                    $4111.45

Submitted by Donald Rask, Treasurer UVLC