Meeting Minutes for October 2017

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Meeting Minutes - October 4, 2017

1.  Federal Congressional Representatives

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Kurt Johnson Reporting

*Klobuchar was recently in town discussing her burn pit legislation, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

* Klobuchar attended the 934th banquet partnered with the 133rd airlift wing and saw off a number of service members deployed for hurricane relief.

*It has been a quiet month with legislature. We will update you when more information is available.

Q. Is the senator involved with the transportation committee in the house? It does not have an equal one in the senate. What is the interaction the senator would have in facilitating that initiative?
A. At this point we are not supporting that specific initiative.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller

*Not present.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser Reporting

*The Forever GI bill, which helps families improve their educational benefits, was signed into law.

*We are pleased with our efforts in reforming the veterans appeals process, both with streamlining the process itself and with legacy claims.

*The dates for several important veteran service grants have been extended and will continue to provide support.

*The American Legion Commemorative Coin act passed the House and the Senate and is currently waiting on the president to sign.

Q. What is your priority on the Caring for Our Veterans Caregivers act?
A. We want to make sure that it continues moving forward. It is a high priority.

Q. Will you be going on the campaign trail?
A. Walz has announced his candidacy but I will continue to work in the congressional office. A different team will be working on the campaign, separate from the work we do here.

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis - Angela Sedlacek Reporting

*We have been watching the NDAA carefully, but September was a quiet month in terms of legislation.

*Our Academy information night will be on October 9th at St. Thomas Academy. Currently we have 30 applicants.

3rd District Representative - Erik Paulsen - Margret Cavanaugh

*Not present.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland

* See below.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler

*Not present.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Abby Rime Reporting

*In September, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018 was passed. This provides discretionary funding for the federal government for fiscal year 2018. This will join with the funding package passed in late July.

*The house passed the Department of Veteran Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2017 in late September. This extends a number of expiring programs, including Veterans Benefits, homelessness, healthcare, nursing home care, support services for caregivers, transportation, childcare assistance, adaptive sports programs, and housing and home loan services. It also extends the assisted living pilot program for veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries for five additional months.

*The House passed the American Legion Commemorative Coin Act.

*We visited Eagles Healing Nest and toured their facility.

*We will be sending a letter to the president urging him to recognize the contributions of our Atomic Veterans. This is in partnership with Representative McGovern. 

7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie Reporting

*Peterson cosponsored HR 3605, the Awareness for Korean/DMZ Veterans Act of 2017, HR 3327, the Toxic Exposure Declassification Bill, HR 1472, the Military and Veteran Caregivers Improvement Act, HR 846, the Military Surviving Spouse Equity Act, HR 216, the Second Division Memorial Modification Act, HR 544, the Newborn Care Improvement Act, HR 1328, the American Heroes COLA Act, HR 1390, the Authorization of the Secretary of the VA to Pay Costs Relating to Transportation for Certain Deceased Veterans to Veteran Cemeteries Owned By The State or Tribal Organizations, HR 1681, the Women Veterans and Families Veterans Health Services Act, HR 2147, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act, HR 2452, the Deborah Samson Act, and HR 3209, the Protecting Military Honor Act.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Rick Olseen Reporting

*There is a CBOC clinic in Hibbing that Nolan is involved with concerning some whistleblowers who alerted him to issues with quality of care. The VA is going to take over the operations of these CBOC clinics in either late 2018 or 2019. We are confident that the care questions will be resolved under the VA's management.

2. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

MN Department of Veteran Affairs - Commissioner Larry Shellito - Ben Johnson Reporting

*The Support Our Troops license plate funds are split between Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs, and are used for grants relating to veterans issues. The grant cycle is now open from October 4th until October 30th. We want to focus on veteran suicide, but will consider grants concerning other issues as well. The Grants Administrator for our agency is Liz Kelly (liz.kelly@state.mn.us). All information needed to submit is on our website.

*Veterans Day is November 11th. It will be at Veterans Memorial Center at Inver Grove Heights. We are going to focus on Vietnam veterans this year. More information will be forthcoming.

*Concerning legislature, this session is a bonding session. MDVA is primarily focusing on capital investments to improve and repair our state veterans homes and cemeteries. There will also be several other policy initiatives put forward and we will continue to work with the Commander's Taskforce and the UVLC to help develop proposals that will aid veterans and their families.

*The legislature comes back in session on February 22nd. The House has sufficient money to run through the beginning of the legislative session and the Senate has indicated that they might have some challenges come December with their funding stream. The Supreme Court ordered mediation and the result was intractable differences between the legislature and the governor. It is now back in the hands of the MN Supreme Court to make a decision about the funding.

*We are talking with the Commander's Task Force about Veterans Day On The Hill. It is UVLC's year to provide an MC and run the program. We are available to help in any way we can.

Q. What is the status of the bridge?
A. The renovation started last week and should be in process through December. We are hoping to have it done and open for traffic in the next few months, with the finishing work completed in spring 2018. Building 22 should be completed in December and we hope to have the residents moved in by March.

Q. What about Building 16?
A. It still exists. We are hoping to improve services, but do not intend to close the building.

Q. Has the cost for redoing the bridge been elevated because of its historical significance?
A. Fortunately we took all of that into consideration when we submitted the grant.

Q. Are you supporting any efforts to build a veterans home in northwestern Minnesota?
A. It is the governor and the legislature's job to select the location for new homes. Currently, the proposed projects in Bemidji, Fillmore County, and Montevideo are looking promising.

Q. Which are you considering supporting? Brand new facilities or schemes that would take advantage of existing facilities that only need renovation?
A. Generally what we find with existing facilities is that they don't meet modern standards of care. It is a challenge to work with existing buildings and often it doesn't make sense to invest in that renovation. We will work with what we are given, but in most cases, we prefer building new facilities. It is also important to note that in January 2017,
the Secretary of the VA announced that they were looking into reports concerning veteran care in rural facilities and plan to release their findings in 2018. We are still figuring out how the new program will look and how we need to position our community homes to be looked at favorably. However, we will not know what the report will say until it is released.

MN Military Affairs - Major Scott Ingalsbe - Annette Kyper - Don Kerr Reporting

*As of November 1st, Major-General Jon Jensen will be the new adjutant general.

*We have received many inquiries recently about hurricane relief. We have all together about 100 MN National Guardsmen currently assisting in relief efforts.

*The 133rd Airlift Wing has been deployed for three months and will be returning in the end of October.

*Our Arden Hills construction project is getting ready to begin. It is on the fiscal year Defense project for 2018. This will be the new headquarters for the 35th Division. The project is currently on track.

*The Joining Community Forces events have been held in Albert Lee and Proctor. The next one will be on October 5th in Marshal. There will be another on November 2nd at Metro State University.

*Annette Kuyper is currently over at Great River Energy for their proclamation as a Yellow Ribbon Company. They are the 57th Yellow Ribbon company in MN and there are several more pending.

*A Yellow Ribbon Company seminar was hosted by Perdue Financials last week, where they listened to guest speakers and shared best practices.

MN Assistance Council For Veterans (MACV) - Mike Lowsimanu Reporting

*There will be a job club hosted every Thursday at 01300 at the Minneapolis South Workforce Center. Our employment coordinator has already placed 31 veterans.

*Vet Law Clinic dates are as follows:
            October 10th from 9:00 to 2:00 PM at the Minneapolis VA
            October 17th from 1000 to 15000 at the St. Cloud VA
            November 1st from 1000 to 1800 at Fergus Falls VFW Post 612
            November 2nd from 0900 to 14000 at the American Legion in Brainerd
            November 14th at the Minneapolis VA

If there is a veteran seeking legal services, send them to one of the clinics.

*The Mankato Stand Down will take place on November 14th at the Verizon Wireless center. There will be a legal clinic there as well.

*MACV will be closing in on the house that Lenare and the Builders Association built for us on October 6th. It will be in St. Paul and it will house a veteran family in transition for 1 year. We are hoping it will be the first of many such projects.

Q. What is your success rate for veterans who come in with problems for getting them solved?
A. Sarah Somerton, our vet-law director, would be the person to ask.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser Reporting

*We had a meeting on October 2nd with Senator Anderson, the head of the Veterans Committee in the Senate.

*We want to thank everyone who showed up on September 30th for the return of the 18th Honor Flight.

*Veteran's Voices will have several events coming up soon in conjunction with TPT. In June, there will be an extravaganza with helicopters. Those interested in telling their Vietnam story should contact https://www.mnvietnam.org

*The next MAG meeting will be November 6th.

*American Legion and VWF buildings are centers of veteran communities. Because of tax liabilities around gambling, it's coming to the point where they risk going out of business and veterans lose a place to gather. We are trying to work with other veteran service organizations to address this issue. We need to get our issues and thoughts together before the opening of the legislative session. We cannot wait until January to get everything in order.

MN Paralyzed Veterans Of America - Todd Kemery - Jim Dahlin

*No report today

Women Veterans Initiative - Edna Mackenzie

*Not present.

3. Federal Agencies

Brooklyn Park Veterans Center - Lina Knox Reporting

*Several months ago, our policy with readjustment counseling changed. When a veteran calls the vet center, instead of going to voicemail, it goes to the vet center call center. So anytime a veteran calls any of the three state veteran centers or nationwide outside of office hours, it will go directly to a call center. If a veteran can talk to someone from the call center crisis line or leave a detailed message, the call center will relay that message to the vet center. The vet center's line is different from the Veterans Crisis line. This is one of the new changes that has been made.

*We are drawing a lot more underserved veterans at the Brooklyn Park location, including a lot of women and minorities, veterans with sexual trauma, Iraq/Afghanistan era veterans.

*We have created several community groups for veterans so they can have a social outlet, including a golf group, softball, bowling, and a guitar group.

*We have also continued our art therapy group.

*The University of Minnesota and the University of St. Thomas have been working with veterans with PTSD to produce a documentary on the impact of art thereapy. The documentary is called Visions of Warriors and it will be screened at the University of St. Thomas on October 20th (http://www.visionsofwarriors.com/newsarchive/2017/9/29/visions-of-warriors-to-screen-at-the-university-of-st-thomas-minnesota).

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves Reporting

*Our fiscal year ended on September 30th and we are now in fiscal year 2018. We had a goal to reduce our claims backlog below 70,000 and though we did not quite reach it, we ended at about 76,000 veterans over 125 days for a decision. This represents about 23% of our national queue of veterans claims. We completed just shy of 1.4 million ratings claims.

*The Decision Ready Claims Program was piloted here and has now been fully implemented nationally. The largest proportion of the claims are still being filed and completed under that program are still in Minnesota.

*The Appeals Modernization Act was signed by the president on August 23rd. That law has an 18 month ramp-up period and will not go into full effect until February of 2019. The secretary has asked that we begin implementing what portions of the law we are able to right now that will give the benefits of the new program to as many veterans as possible. The details are still being worked out. We expect that it will be an incremented process and will provide more details as they become available.

*We are still hiring at the regional office. If you know any veterans looking for opportunities to come over to the VDA, please direct them to usjobs.com. We are looking for around 30 additional employees.

Q. Concerning the Decision Ready Claims, is that a national queue?
A. It is becoming a national queue. We are still getting a good portion of the MN veterans here.

Q. Have you reached out to KARE11 to show that you're doing something positive? They have given you a lot of negative press in the past and this would give them the opportunity to learn about what you’re doing.
A. We published information about the national programs and have press releases.

VISN 23 - Director - Janet Murphy - Andre Kok

*On October 2nd, the VA announced that a new federal advisory committee had been started. The purpose of this committee is to provide feedback to the secretary on the whole spectrum of VA programs.

*We offer flu shots through Walgreens, in addition to offering them at CBOCs and clinics.

*As of October 4, 14 VISN employees have been sent to Puerto Rico and 39 are ready to leave to aid in hurricane relief.

*Concerning the KARE11 reports on non--VA emergency care claims, want to encourage veterans to go to the emergency room when they are having an emergency. We are always looking to improve our processes.

*Upcoming town hall meetings:
            December 7th in Forest Lake
            December 11th in St. Cloud

*We want to highlight our tele-primary care hub. We have been working to develop this program for a year and a half. It uses funding from our Office of Rural Health to provide medical providers to rural areas that are having difficult time recruiting physicians, nurses, or psychologists.

*A year ago we started a consolidated call center, that brings together several different calls. We are seeing a decrease in hold-times for veterans and want to continue to improve on this.

VAHCS Minneapolis - Director Patrick J. Kelly - Mike Rozcrantz Reporting

*The Veterans East apartments opened on September 21st. There are 100 units of affordable housing for veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

*Our Town Hall in Hibbing was successful. Around 50 veterans and service officers showed up. Most concerns were with the Choice program.

*We have created a center for Integrated Health and Healing that will open mid-November. It will offer various mindfulness practices.

*There will be a Veterans Day program at the VA on Friday November 10th at 2:30 PM in the flag atrium.

*As of September of 2018, we will be taking over the CBOCs and making them VA staffed in Eely and Hibbing.

Q. What is the gateway for getting into the Veterans East apartments?
A. I will send out the contact information to your offices. You can do it through the CRC, do it directly, ect.

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

*Our new chief of staff was announced on October 1st. It is Doctor Bartley. He has been acting in the role since June and has officially taken up the role.

*We are hosting a Recovery Night for veteran's families and community members, for people to come share stories and help improve mental health recovery. This will be on October 19th from 6 AM through 7:30 PM.

*There will be a nursing and medical clerk career fair coming up on October 14th at Rasmussen College in St. Cloud.

*We are doing VA Healthcare 101 on the first Tuesday and second Friday of the month October through December. This will give new veterans the chance to come in and learn about the VA system.

*We recently opened our new resident dining facility and are slowly transitioning services over from the old dining facility. The space in the old dining facility will be used to create a new primary care space.

*We are working on the Canteen. It is very close to completion.

*We are finishing up a project in our Residential Mental Health Treatment Program. Building 28 will be completely renovated with new bed space for RTT. We now have the ability to move some veterans out of areas that need renovation.

*Construction on our Adult Day Care building will start in fiscal year 2019. The COC cottage will begin construction in 2019. This will add 10 beds to our COC.

*We are working on our Whole Health Initiative.

Q. You have several single-occupant rooms on your campus. Do you follow how much occupancy percentage is veteran?
A. We don't actively manage those buildings. They are managed by outside contractors, but I do believe they are over 51% veteran occupied.

UVLC member question: How we are going to keep Veterans in the [Al Loehr] apartments to keep the number over the 51% threshold? 

Response: The Al Loehr Veteran and Community Apartments were built via an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL) agreement with the St. Cloud Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA).  Construction was 100% financed by the Minnesota Housing Finance Association. The apartments are managed by the Catholic Charities of the St. Cloud Diocese. The apartments offer safe and sober/drug-free, affordable, supportive, housing to Veterans and to other low-income members of the community, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Per the EUL and tenant selection plan, Veterans who qualify to reside at the apartments receive priority placement for vacant apartments if less than 51% of the apartments are occupied by Veterans. If there are no qualifying Veteran applicants at the time of a vacancy then the apartments may be filled with non-Veterans. The tenant selection plan is intended to keep this valuable community resource fully occupied with qualified tenants.

For more information, please visit: http://ccstcloud.org/services/housing/affordable-rental-units/al-loehr-veterans-and-community-studio-apartments/

           
Ft. Snelling Cemetery - Bob Razor - John Knapp Reporting

*No numbers this time, but there will be data for the next meeting. We are in the full swing of winter operations and will begin pre-digging winter graves.

*The dedication ceremony for the new Veterans Cemetery at Leech Lake will be on October 5th.

*22 trees were removed by 40 volunteer private Tree Companies from the twin cities.

*Wreathes Across America date is forthcoming. Usually it is the first week in December.

Vets Employment and Training Services [VETS] - David Seay

*Not present.

Historic Fort Snelling - Tom Pfannenstiel Reporting

*In 2020, the Minnesota Historical Society will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of Ft. Snelling. It was established in 1820. The society is undertaking the largest project since the construction of the History Center. We will be refurbishing one of the barracks buildings and making it into our Visitors center. We will also be taking an 1880s building on site and turn it into our Visitor Welcome center. There will also be a great deal of landscaping work. We will be approaching the legislative session for funding and other work coming up in 2020.

*We are working with various constituency groups within the community, including the veterans community, to discuss what you want to see at the Fort.

*We are collaborating with the Minnesota Humanities Center and on October 18th we are going to sponsor a Veterans Voices Program.

Q. How are you planning to reach rural veterans?
A. We are working now on the engagement process with staff.

4. Announcements

*Mike Rivard received the Veterans Voice Award of Minnesota in September.

* Connie Haddeland received the Patrick Henry Award from the National Guard.

*Anoka recently released three buildings at the mental hospital that they plan to rebuild into housing for homeless veterans. It will be funded privately and we are looking for volunteers. Senator Bruce Anderson is spearheading the project. Eagles Healing Nest is taking the lead for the project. Contact: mbutler@eagleshealingnest.com

5. Meeting in Recess for five minutes

Next meeting November 1, 2017.

Treasurer’s Report as of 1 October 2017
                                                                                               

Balance as of 1 September 2017                                             $3,371.45

Deposits for September 2017             $0.00

Expenses for September 2017
            Transcription Expense             ($120.00)

Balance as of 1 September, 2017                                            $3,251.45

Submitted by Donald Rask, Treasurer UVLC