Meeting Minutes for May 2017

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Meeting Minutes - May 3, 2017

  • Call to order - 9:30, Invocation - Pledge of Allegiance
  • Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests
  • Announcements - Ralph Donais, Chairman - Jerry Kyser, Vice Chairman.
  • Introducing Director Stephen D. Black from the St. Cloud VA
  • Introducing Edna Mackenzie from the Women Veterans Initiative.

1. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito Legislative Info - Ben Johnson reporting

*On May 2nd, the State Government Finance Committee got together and released their agreed upon language for the final budget for the MN Department of Veteran Affairs. They funded an expansion of the MN GI Bill, included the Disclosure Statement (which states that veterans can receive certain benefits for free from veteran service organizations). Unexpectedly, $10 million was included toward the design, construction, and operation of a new state veterans home. The location is yet to be determined. They did not fund some of the key initiatives we requested. They did not include funds for the operations of the state cemetery in Duluth, our operating adjustment request, or the repair and betterment request. They did include $5 million in asset preservation for the veteran’s homes. Funding for the Minneapolis Trust Bridge repair was not included.

*The Legacy Bill includes funding for Minnesota Remembers, Camp Legionville, the Medal of Honor memorial, Veterans Voices, and Veterans Memorial Grants. This is still being debated. A lot of work needs to be done.

MN Military Affairs - Major Scott Ingalsbe - Annette Kyper

*We will be going to Capital Hill to meet with our congressional delegates in the week of May 8th to discuss cyber legislative priorities.

*Units in our 1st Armored Combat Brigade team will be heading to Latvia and Lithuania this summer as part of Operation Saber Strike. This is part of the European Reassurance Initiative.

*We have recently completed an audit of our Yellow Ribbon networks. 80% are strong and sustaining, meaning that they are able to meet all the objectives placed on them. We are also working with our Yellow Ribbon companies (currently we have 54) to ensure they have an understanding of the rigor and up-tempo of training that the National Guard is experiencing, as well as listening to their feedback.

*The Building Healthy Military Communities is an initiative to synchronize support services for military service members. In Minnesota, this is called the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program. We are one of three states that have been given a seven-year contract.

*There will be a visit from a national team from the DOD who will merge onto our state program. They will be assessing our state for service members currently serving looking at needs and gaps in needs.

Q. There was concern about a program that was defunded, the Family Assistance Center. What is the story there?
A. We have nine Family Assistance Centers. Their contract was cut drastically [by the administration] and their pay was halved. They are key to the sustainment of our Beyond The Yellow Ribbon program and key to support for our service members. Of the nine, three returned and one left. We have seven open positions. All but one have been rehired. The new hires will be starting in two-three weeks.
Q. Is this back to full funding?
A. No. This is the contract we have for the year. We will have to work with this.
Q. Is there anything we can do about this?
A. Our legislators are aware of the issue and it is at the level of the National Guard Bureau. For the time being, we are doing the best we can. The contract has been awarded and will not be changed for a while.

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

*Here are the dates for the May legal clinics. The first is May 9th at the Minneapolis VA from 9 AM to 2 PM. There is one in Virginia, Minnesota on May 16th from 9 AM to 4 PM. May 17th at the American Legion West in Duluth from 9 AM to 3 PM. May 25th at the VFW post in Fergus Falls, Minnesota from 11 AM to 4 PM. May 26th in Alexandria, Minnesota from 9 AM to 2 PM.

*The Minneapolis Stand Down will be August 1st and 2nd at the Boy Scout Basecamp. It starts at 8 AM.

Vets Employment & Training Services [VETS] - David Seay

*We are reviewing submissions for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project grants nationwide.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser

*The House heard 42 bills in Representative Dettmer's committee. We have to be active in speaking with our representatives on our issues.

*We still need to get the bridge fixed. Currently it is stuck. It is vitally important that we get this done. There is only one exit and in case an emergency such as a tornado happens, ambulances and other emergency personnel will be unable to reach the center.

*The next MAG meeting is May 15h at 9 AM at 400 North state office building.

MN Paralyzed Veterans Of America - Todd Kemery

*On May 3rd at 3 PM at the House, MN Paralyzed Vets will be attending the House Bonding Bill meeting and ask that any other organizations that have the time do so as well.

*There will be a veteran affairs Senate Capital investment meeting on Monday May 8th. We will be a presence there.

*We are in a unique position with the Americans With Disabilities Act. We can advocate for disabled veterans and the larger disabled community. On the federal level, HR 620 has been brought to our attention. There has been an issue of drive-by lawsuits concerning disability accesses in rural America. HR 620 is a bill that would restrict the ADA in response to this. It would allow a business owner who is not in compliance with the ADA a grace period to make the changes to come into compliance. We are not in support of HR 620 but we are in support of the grace period. If you are having problems in your area, there are ways we can have discussions and provide support in your communities.

*PVA is part of the city committee on the City of Orono concerning the Big Island project. There will be a meeting on May 9th. The project is just getting off the ground. This is an ongoing process.

Project Got Your Back - Allison Alstrin

*Project Got Your Back is a group of veterans who want to do more for other veterans in their community, including helping find access to services and support. It was started in Minnesota and has since linked up with America's Warrior Partnership. Allison Alstrin was hired to reinvigorate the project.

*We want to help the support organizations in Minnesota to work more collaboratively together across the sectors in order to maximize their impact. We are focused on collaboration and collective impact.

*Currently we are raising awareness among various local veteran groups. Feel free to reach out.

Q. How is your organization different from what MACV or others are doing?
A. Our organization doesn't do service. We help service providers like MACV and Yellow Ribbon to work together across their disciplines.
Q. How do you service active duty people, since we can't hand out information about active duty service members?
A. The goal is that if all these organizations are actively looking to find the veteran, they will be finding the veteran and providing the information. We are trying to connect all service organizations, both veteran specific and not, in order to give veterans the best possible care and support. That outreach and word of mouth will hopefully allow active duty service members to find us, or for veteran service groups to connect them to us directly.

Women Veterans Initiative - Edna Mackenzie

*We are in the midst of redeveloping our strategic plan, as well as discussing our plans moving forward concerning community integration.

National Association of Atomic Veterans - Keith Kiefer

*On the state level, we have HF 2276, which would designate July 16th as Atomic Veteran's Day in Minnesota. It has cleared committee and had a second reading.

*On the national level, we have the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act amendments of 2017. Currently we have no Minnesota congressmen or senators supporting it. There is also the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Parity Act. We also have the Atomic Veterans Service Medal Act, though this has yet to be introduced at this time.

*May 20th is Armed Services Day in DC. There will be a rally for veterans who have been exposed to toxins covering all eras of service. The rally is called Operation Stand Together. (www.operationstandtogether.org).

2. Federal Agencies

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves - Ron Woolery

*St. Paul was selected for a new pilot program, the DRC (decision ready claim). It doesn't go into the national work queue, the claim stays in Minnesota, and the claim will be adjudicated in 30 days or less. The program began on May 2nd. It only includes claims for increase at this point. The hope is for it to be all claims by September.

*Ron Woolery is now the Public Affairs officer for the regional office.

VISN 23 - Director - Janet Murphy - Andre Kok

*The VA launched a new access and quality website in April (www.accesstocare.va.gov). This site allows veterans and others to find VA facilities and look at the wait times and quality of care scores for the various facilities. It is an effort to make the information more readily available to the public.

*In April, the hiring freeze was lifted for the medical centers.

*The president visited the VA in DC last week and signed an executive order. Another thing that was announced there was the regulations for new construction and design of new state-owned veterans homes. In the past they had to meet federal standards and now as long as the facility meets state standards, the project can be done in conjunction with the VA.

VAHCS Minneapolis - Director Patrick J. Kelly - Bryan Taylor

*There will be a keynote speech at 12:30 PM in the auditorium by Director Erin Krebs on chronic pain concerning opioid vs. non-opioid treatments, followed by poster sessions from 1:30 to 3:30 PM.

*The VA Annual 2K Walk will be on May 17th around the VA hospital.

*The annual volunteer banquet will be on June 14.

*The next town hall will be June 21st at the Wipple Building from 5 to 7 PM.

*June 21st is the anticipated end-date for the canopy covering the parking garage.

*We have a veteran's fast house projected planned for fall of 2017. It would be 100 units.

St. Cloud VA HCS - Director Stephen D. Black - Barry Venable

*Introducing Director Stephen Black.

*Our chief of staff, Sue Markstrom, will be retiring. She will be missed.

*St. Cloud was ranked #2 for quality of care and timely access.

*There is a great deal of construction going on. We have a new cafeteria and kitchen opening this summer. We will be adding additional living facilities over the next two years.

*There will be a Choice revision coming soon. The money that was set aside for Choice will continue onto the fiscal year 2018 until the money runs out. The VA is set to become primary payer soon, which will allow us to speed up.

*Our modernization efforts continue.

*We are focusing heavily on suicide prevention.

*We recently secured an affiliation with the University of Minnesota for surgical residency.

*We also held our annual volunteer banquet. Volunteers have given the equivalent of 33 full time staff this year.

Q. What about the windmill?
A. We have an ongoing wind study that is due to finish up in October or November. At that point, we will know whether the windmill will pay for itself. Decisions will be made at that point. Currently we are in a holding pattern.

Q. We need to emphasize that National Guard members are counted as veterans and will receive the same care if they come in for suicide prevention or other mental health treatment.
A. That's correct. We are emphasizing that. Any veteran, regardless of status, will be treated for an acute medical health issue. The details are still being worked out.

Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Bob Razor
*We are getting ready for Memorial Day. Our keynote speaker will be Retired Command Sergeant-Major Doug Maddi. The event starts at 10 AM.

*The mow-trim contract was awarded.  

*In April we had 122 internments. Our total internments for the year so far is 2,321. Our rate of internments has increased steadily, though we are currently only doing 12 to 15% of all veteran burials in Minnesota. We interned 8 female veterans, 89 WWII, 59 Korea, 58 Vietnam, 12 Persian Gulf, 17 peacetime, 0 active duty, and 215 dependents in April. The rifle squad did 90 Army, 40 Navy, 23 Air Force, 14 Marine, 1 Coast Guard, and 1 Merchant Marine.

Vets Employment and Training Services [VETS] - David Seay

3. Federal Congressional Representatives

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Greg Swanholm

*The senator introduced the Veterans Access to Care Act, which would designate VA medical facilities and state veterans homes as health professional shortage areas, which would allow them to compete for jobs through the national health service corps.

* The senator introduced the Newborn Care Improvement Act, which would mandate the VA extend the coverage for newborns from 7 days to 14 days.

*The senator introduced the Supporting the Children of the National Guard and Reserve Act, which would require states to identify students in military families from their school records to make sure those families are aware of all the resources available to them. Previously the bill did not include the Guard and Reserve components.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller

*Franken is cosponsoring senate bill 833, the Service Member and Veterans Empowerment Act of 2017. This is an expansion of care and claims processing methods for trauma victims.

*Franken cosponsored senate resolution 38, honoring National POW Recognition Day on April 9th.

*Franken cosponsored senate resolution 12, creating a sense of congress for favoring the Blue Water veterans. This is to push the VA to agree with the Blue Water veterans bill.

*Franken signed onto a letter about the DAV stamps to be enacted, as well as for the state veterans nursing home construction grant letter. He signed onto Walz's letter to data accessibility for MN state. This would help to allow more military transfer credit.

*He signed onto a National Defense letter calling for National Guard armory upgrades as well as a defense appropriations letter for funding Beyond The Yellow Ribbon programs.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser

*Not present.

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis - Mathew Pagano

*We cosponsored HR 1384, the Reserve Components Parity Act. We signed onto two delegation wide letters, the Minnesota delegation supporting Family Assistance centers in MN, and the MN delegation letter regarding the MN state veterans education transfer system.

3rd District Representative - Erik Paulsen - Margret Cavanaugh

*Paulsen went to the Naval Academy in April and met with several of our academy nominees who are now students. 

*Currently we have 13 appointments to the service academies. There will be a reception on June 5th at the Star Bank building.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland

*The omnibus bill contains $15 billion more for defense readiness and maintenance issues.

*Our office has 11 service academy nominees who have received appointments.

*We have moved to a new location in St. Paul. The new address is 61 Lasalle Street St. Paul 55114.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler

*Not present.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Abby Rime

*Emmer has introduced HR 1372, a bill that would require the VA to send a bill to a veteran within 120 days if they were seen within a VA facility. If they were seen by an outside provider, the deadline is 18 months. It also allows the Secretary of the VA to forgive bills. It also requires the VA to notify veterans of waivers and payment options before billing them.

*We signed onto the delegation-wide letter to the director of the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Students.

*We also signed onto a letter for Veterans Treatment Courts urging appropriators to fully fund those.

*We are reintroducing the Atomic Veterans Service Members Act.

*The president signed an executive order for the VA accountability office looking for waste and fraud abuse.

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie

*Peterson supported several bills. HR 299, the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act for 2017, HR 696 to prohibit any hiring freezes impacting the Department of Veteran Affairs, HR 1007 the Vietnam Veterans Agent Orange Fairness Act, HR 1384 the Reserve Components Parity Act, and 1972 billing accountability.

*Peterson will be meeting with VISN 23 Director Murphy on May 3rd in Washington.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Rick Olseen

*We are still seeing a lot of issues with billing for the Choice program.

*The Let's Go Fishing program is available to veterans without charge. The program is wheelchair accessible. Spread the word. (http://lgfws.com)

4. Announcements

5. Meeting in Recess for five minutes

Next meeting June 7, 2017.

Treasurer’s Report as of 1 April 2017

Balance as of 1 April 2017 $4,581.25

Deposits for April 2017 $100.00

Expenses for April 2017
Transcription Expense $150.00
DVA Rotunda Expense $170.00
Website Administrator $400.00 ($720.00)

Balance as of 1 May, 2017 $3,961.25

Submitted by Donald Rask, Treasurer UVLC