Meeting Minutes for March 2017

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Meeting Minutes - March 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. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves - Ron Woolery Reporting
*To answer a question asked last month, there are currently 120 C 123 claims pending at St. Paul in the service center. To date, St. Paul has granted 180 and denied 451 C 123 claims. The pension center also has three C 123 claims that deal with veterans claiming pensions. Additionally, despite the hiring freeze, the St. Paul regional office has a ceiling of 864 and right now we are at 861 full time employees. Of those, 54% are veterans. The last question concerned Camp Lejeune marines and the contaminated water issue. Nationwide, we are showing 5,050 Camp Lejeune claims. Of those claims, currently 972 are actionable. Currently there are no plans to distribute them through the National Work Que.

*There is discussion about changing the appeals process, but nothing concrete to report just yet.

VISN 23 - Janet Murphy - Reporting
*We are in transition with the new administration. The president campaigned on several veterans platforms, as well as an accountability platform, and we are waiting to see how this will play out. President Trump claimed he would create a White House veterans hotline and we support this initiative. Additional access for veterans is a positive. He has also promised to increase the number of mental health practitioners, as well as outreach for veterans who are not currently enrolled. The new secretary is especially focused on combating veteran suicide. We stand with the secretary in his opinion that VA care should not be privatized, but also need to look at what practices could be improved and use the private sector to optimize the care for our veterans.

*We have been reviewing our service to women veterans and are approaching half a million veterans enrolled and receiving care. One goal is to ensure that every female veteran who wants a designated women's health provider has access to one. Our goal is 55% in 2017. VISN 23 has already met that goal.

Q. What can we do to help veterans dealing with pain, specifically connected to Camp Lejeune?

A. We are seeing a lot of back injuries and are looking into several avenues. Currently we are looking for the best ways to help veterans live with the pain.

Q. Is the twenty point program still in effect?

A. There is a five point program currently in use.

Q. I worked for Congressman Kline and our constituents have been reporting numerous problems with the Choice program. They have indicated they would prefer to go back to the fee system. What is your response?

A. There is legislature being put into place to combine all the fee-based systems back into our old-fashioned fee program, which would be managed by us. In this network, we are asking to take back management of the Choice program. Currently, only Fargo has been approved.

Q. In conversation with the secretary, was there any discussion of veteran homelessness initiatives?

A. Not specifically, though the secretary is supportive of that issue.

Minneapolis VA HCS - Director Patrick J. Kelly Reporting
*Dr. Shulkin has been very clear about his commitment to access and is most concerned about making sure that veterans who need same-day care can get it, especially with primary care and mental health services. This is something we are committed to as well.

*Concerning the hiring freeze, the VA has waved around 80% of the restrictions around clinical staff - doctors, nurses, etc. Around 100 positions are impacted by the hiring freeze. Short-term, we don't anticipate our veterans being impacted by this. Long term this could be a concern.

*There has been some discussion about increasing the VA's budget. We are encouraging outreach efforts in order to both help the community and increase our budget.

*Senator Klobuchar visited recently. Her specific interest was in VA research into Persian Gulf illness, and whether there were any pre-existing conditions that need to be taken into consideration. She and her staff spoke with several researchers. It was an encouraging visit.

*A canopy is under contruction in the parking garage that will take veterans into the facilities. Unfortunately it will not be finished until June, but the hope is that this will make dealing with extreme weather easier on our patients.

*The new Veterans East Housing has been constructed on Minnehaha. This is veteran’s preferential housing for veterans at risk of homelessness. It will house 100 veterans. It is scheduled to open in the fall.

*We are moving several of our administrative services in the hospital over to Ft. Snelling, including administration officers and other support services that do not need to be in the hospital. This will give us more room in the hospital for medical services.

Q. Do you have enough volunteers?

A. We have 1,700 volunteers, it's going well.

Q. Concerning what the secretary has said about improving access, is there going to be any team put into these hospitals that don't want to use Choice fee basis?

A. We have struggled to get hospitals to sign up for Choice. There's nothing we can do but encourage them to participate. We have tried to work with them.

ST. Cloud VA HCS - David Hintgen, Tyler Bieniek Reporting
*The director search continues. Mark Aberle is now our acting director.

*We will have a town hall meeting in Wright County at American Legion Post 270 on March 8th.

*The Choice program continues to be an issue. The future of the Choice program is unclear at the moment.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Bob Razor Reporting
*In December, we had 335 services. There were 67 WWII, 44 Korea, 60 Vietnam, 5 Persian Gulf, 16 peacetime, and 143 dependents. The rifle Honor Squad did 163 services.

*In January, we performed 341 services. There were 66 WWII, 45 Korea, 48 Vietnam, 4 Persian Gulf, 18 peacetime, and 162 dependents. The rifle Honor Squad did 146 services.

*We are preparing for our Memorial Day services and will soon have the announcement ready for our keynote speaker.

*We performed a clean sweep of the cemetery in the second week of February.

Vets Employment And Training Service [VETS] - David Seay Reporting
*As of February 28th, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program solicitation for grant application was announced.

2. Federal Congressional Representatives and Senators
Senator Amy Klobuchar- Kurt Johnson Reporting
*The senator was able to tour the Minneapolis VA research center concerning Gulf War illness and was pleased with the results. Two months ago, the senator introduced the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits act and found it helpful to explore how the burn pit issues are different from the Gulf War illnesses seen previously. The senator is moving on the issue and will continue to support it.

*On February 28th, the senator introduced the Education for Troops Veterans Act, cosponsored with Senator Franken and several others. This is meant to address some of the education benefits that are not being given equally to National Guard and Reserve forces.

*The senator attended the address on February 28th, accompanied by Maj-General Nash.

Q. Concerning the 21st Century Map 21 Act, which includes a set-aside for veteran owned small businesses, what is the senator planning to do?

A. We are keeping an eye on this.

Senator Al Franken- Alex Schueller
*Not present.

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

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis - Matt Pagano Reporting
*On March 1, Lewis met with Disabled Veterans of America in DC.

*Lewis supported the Hire Vets Act and the Boosting Rates of Veteran Employment Act. Both have passed the house with bipartisan support.

*As we are new to the district, please let us know if there are any issues you would like our help on.

*It is not finalized, but we are tentatively planning our Academy night in May in our Burnsville district office.

3rd District Representative -Erik Paulsen - Margaret Cavanaugh Reporting
*Paulsen also met with the American Legion, the VFW, and the DAV over the past week. All three organizations left positive feedback for the Minnesota VA medical system. They support the reauthorization of the Choice program, modernizing appeals, and improving care for female veterans.  

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland Reporting
*McCollum is currently the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee interior and is once again on the House Defense Appropriations Committee.

*McCollum has had a number of meetings with the VFW, American Legion, and DAV. Discussion of the Choice program came up a great deal.

*HR 6-96, which would end the VA hiring freeze, is moving forward.

*An additional young man got into West Point, so we currently have 4 for that Academy. We also have a young woman who received a full ride to the Naval Academy Prep School.  

*April 11th will be our Academy information night at Mounds View High School.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler
*Not present.

6th District Representation - Tom Emmer -- Zack Freimark - Abby Rime Reporting
*Emmer is working on The Brave Act and the Hire Our Vets Act. He is pleased with the president's promise to increase the budget for the VA.

*We have 2 students going to West Point, 1 to the Air Force Academy, and 1 for the Naval Academy.

*We are planning on having an upcoming town hall about the Choice program.

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie
*Not present.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan- Rick Olseen
*We are having problems with the Choice program.

3. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations  

MN Department of Veteran Affairs, MN Veterans 2017 Legislative Info - Ben Johnson
*See handouts for more detail.

*Currently we are looking at eight separate bills that address the Homestead Market Exclusion.

*Several bills of interest: Senate File 76, a tax credit for past military service, and Senate File 568, which concerns veteran service organizations getting reduced class for property taxes, and Senate File 1130, veteran preference for hiring in the legislature and courts.

*The first committee deadline is February 10th. The 16th is expected to be the final committee meeting for the State Veteran and Military Affairs Committee. This will be when the budget for MDVA and Military Affairs will be decided. The 17th is the second deadline.

*On March 28th, the budget forecast for the state was released. There is a positive economic outlook. Both the bonding and the budget can be supported.

*Veterans Day on the Hill will be February 20th.

*We would appreciate support on the Bridge and Asset Preservation Funding bill. (House File 892 and Senate File 640).

MN Military Affairs - LCT Joe Sharkey - Major Ingaelsbe Reporting
*The National Guard Bureau exempted military technicians from the hiring freeze.

*LTC Sharkey and Don Kerr attended a quarterly visit to Capital Hill to meet with the congressional staff concerning federal tuition assistance for veterans. In 2014, a year-long wait was included for veterans after completing training before they could access tuition assistance. We felt this disproportionality impacted members of the National Guard and Reserve. Support is being gathered to change this policy.

*General Nash attended the president's address to congress. He gave a statement of support to Senator Klobuchar relating to educational benefits.

*The Yellow Ribbon Company Seminar will be on March 15th. It will be hosted in Eagan by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

*Joining Community Forces events will be held throughout the state. Two had to be postponed to June.

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - Neal Loidolt Reporting
*We will have legal clinics on March 2nd in Anoka, March 7th in Mankato, March 14th in Minneapolis, and March 30th in Rochester.

????- Doug - Deputy Commissioner of Health
*We are proud of the five homes we have around the state. We are working with Fillmore County to provide more information about the different sites around the state.

*Our state veterans homes are some of the best in the country.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser Reporting
*Be prepared for Veterans Day on the Hill March 20th.

*Concerning the Charitable Gambling fiasco: this was set up to give back to the community. It is not working.

*Ramsey County now has a Veterans Preference program. The state legislature did not have a Veterans Preference Program in place for hiring their employees. This needs to change.

*February is Vietnam Veterans Month.

Women Veterans Initiative - Trista Matascastillo Reporting
*We are working again to sponsor the Women Veterans of the Year award. The deadline is April 30th. This is an ongoing award in partnership with the MN Department of Veteran Affairs. It will be presented on May 25th on the MDVA Salute to Women Veterans Event. Nominations are currently open.

*March 8th is Women's Equality Day. We will be gathering at the Capital to support equality in our constitution.

Armed Forces Service Center - John Kingrey Reporting
*We wanted to thank all the organizations present for your past support.

*In the past, congress has introduced the Loose Change Act, though it has not gone anywhere. That bill would distribute the money that is left at TSA to USOs around the country. It is being introduced again this session as HR 96. It would distribute about $800,000, though only to USOs. We need to get the bill amended to include Armed Forces Service Centers.

*We are still trying to move the Armed Forces Service Center to the other side of the TSA. It is anticipated to be done sometime between 2018 and 2020.

*The major goal for 2016-17 was increasing the number of volunteers. We have added around 35 additional volunteers at the center. Our greatest need is from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  

4. Announcements

5. Meeting in Recess for ten minutes

Business Meeting: Legislative Issues

*Tax Credit to Businesses that Hire Disabled Veterans. There was some pushback and a desire to put a two-year limit on it. We attempted to take that out of the bill.

*Our constituency wants to change the Property Tax Exclusion Act Exemption. They want to include it all the way down to 10%, which would kill the bill.

*The bonding bills are still moving forward.

*The DAV will pay for a bus from Roseville down to the capital and back on Veterans Day on the Hill.

*We should push the University of Minnesota to recognize credits for veterans. Mike Rivard is willing to take point on this.

*Discuss compensation - either monetary or a certificate - for the man who maintains the UVLC website.

*Lack of accountability for the Medal of Honor group. We need to know where the money went.

Next meeting will be April 5, 2017.

UVLC Treasurer’s Report as of 1 March 2017

Balance as of 1 February, 2017 $3,925.52

Deposits for February, 2017 $700.00

Expenses for December, 2016:

Transcription Expense $120.00
Envelope Expense $4.27

Balance as of March 1, 2017 $4,501.25

Currently we have 38 individuals and organizations that are paying dues. Of those, 17 have paid already. There is some money that cannot be recognized yet because several people have paid their dues in advance.  

Submitted by Donald Rask, Treasurer UVLC