Meeting Minutes for September 2017

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Meeting Minutes - September 6, 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

VISN 23 - Director - Janet Murphy - Dr. Sanchez Reporting.

*September is Suicide Prevention month. Suicide prevention is the number one clinical priority for the Secretary of the VA and for our organization. Our goal is to bring the suicide rates down to zero. We need to partner with the community to achieve this goal. This is a social problem. We also need to do a better job of identifying at-risk veterans. It requires research, an understanding of public health, and we need to figure out a way to make it easy for at-risk veterans to utilize our organizations. Every single VISN employee is in the process of receiving suicide prevention training.

*Our program with gun locks is in process and initial reports look promising. Research supports the proposal that at-risk veterans might reconsider an otherwise impulsive suicide if their weapons are not immediately available.

*We currently offer same-day access to urgent mental health cases, but have made it a priority to offer this service to every veteran by the end of the year, not just the urgent cases. This is a large undertaking but we are committed to the cause.

*VISN is slated to hire a thousand new employees nationwide by the end of the year to support our mental health services. We are in the process of determining which positions have the most urgent need.

*We will see veterans with an Other Than Honorable Discharge and will give them 90 days to stabilize their situation. If needed, the chief medical officer can authorize an additional 90 days. We are not going to abandon any veteran who reaches out in their time of need.

Q. What is the procedure for a veteran with an Other Than Honorable Discharge to come in and be seen?
A. The same as any other veteran. They can access a CBOC, go to the ER, or go to any of our clinics. Their discharge status will become clear during the check-in process. The paperwork will wait until after the crisis is resolved. No one will be turned away. The enrollment will not be an impediment to them getting a referral.

VA Regional Office - Kim Graves Reporting

*The Appeals Modernization bill has not passed, but we are working on it. More information will be forthcoming.

*The Forever GI Bill has been passed. The old GI bill had a 15-year time limit to use the benefits. This legislation removed that provision for veterans who left active duty on or after January 2013. More information is available at

*We are continuing to hire claims processors. Our staffing ceiling is currently 899. We are a little shy of that number. Our office is currently the 4th largest in the VA system.

*The state CVSO conference in Grandview will be the week of the 13th.

*There will be a town hall meeting jointly with the Medical center in Hibbing on September 28th from 4 to 6 PM and there will be an outreach program in the Roseville VFW on October 13th.

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

*There will be tables with literature and practical items with the VA crisis line in the atrium of the VAHCS through all of September. We will also be handing out locks for gun cabinets.

*Congress passed the Faster Care for Veterans Act last year. The Minneapolis VA is one of three pilots for the implementation of a self-scheduling tool which will allow veterans to use cellphones or home computers to make appointments for primary care, mental health, audiology, and optometry. The program will also allow cancellations in addition to scheduling appointments. The pilot launches on October 17th. The goal is to enroll 100 veterans per month with the self-scheduling tool. We hope this will expedite access to the VA. More information will be forthcoming.

*At the last Stand Down,135 patients received a Basic Health Screen, 81 Rapid HIV Tests, 68 dental exams, and 53 eye exams.  An eye exam for one veteran revealed a condition which could have led to blindness, but we were able to treat that.

*At August 22nd, National Convention in Reno awarded the Distinguished Service Medal to Doctor Apostolos Georgopoulos, at the Minneapolis VAMC Brain Science Center. The award was for advances in brain imaging for PTSD and Alzheimers.

*The Health East project will have its ribbon cutting ceremony on September 20th at 1:00 PM.

*The Mental Health Summit will be on September 22nd in the Whipple building at 8 AM. It is open to the public. Community partners will be talking about where we are with homelessness and mental health issues.

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

*With our outreach program we’ve had 180 events and disability claims, for a total of 1600 contacts

*We are working to keep veterans connected and aware of their available benefits, and appreciate the support of other veteran organizations who coordinate with us. The importance of community partnerships cannot be overemphasized.

*There will be a ribbon cutting on September 11th at 2 PM for the new resident dining facility.

*The next quarterly meeting will be at 3 PM in the director's conference room on September 11th.

*September 19th is our town hall in Montevideo at VFW Post 380. It will start at 4 PM. 
Ft. Snelling Cemetery - John Knapp Reporting

*We are up to 2,044 internments for the year. There were 483 in the month of July. 80 were from WWII era, 81 were from Korea, and 82 were from Vietnam.

*We were identified as one of four cemeteries nationwide to do a pilot program, to do weekend burials once a month on Saturday. The cemetery is never closed for more than two days. This program is to ensure that veterans and their families have more options for burial and no one is kept waiting. This program will start in November.

*The Airborne Circle with 30 monuments is now complete.

*Veterans have been issuing complains about the pre-need program, specifically that they have not received their letters, so we have started an investigation into figuring out why. We have discovered there is a backlog and we are in the midst of working through it.

*We are currently preparing for winter graves.

*The Fargo rural initiative is expected to be completed in January of 2019.

*September 20th is Saluting Branches, where 40 local arborist companies donate their time and equipment to trim and remove dead trees.

*To date we’ve had over 225,000 burials. With cremations now at 68% we seem to have room up to 2060.

Vets Employment and Training Services [VETS] - David Seay

*Not present.


2. Federal Congressional Representatives

Senator Amy Klobuchar - Kurt Johnson Reporting

*Klobuchar was a co-sponsor of the Forever GI bill. Veterans who were impacted by technical school shut-downs will be able to reapply for those benefits. Service members who were deployed under the designator code 12304 Bravo will also receive their education benefits. There is more work to be done on this, and Franken's office is working to get it added to the NDAA, but it is in process.

*We are excited for the Faster Pay for Veterans Act pilot program.

*The Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act gives the VA the ability to authorize grants to schools that have programs for prosthetics and orthopedics in order to increase the partnership between them. Century Community College is one example that will benefit from additional grants and collaboration with the VA.

*We are pushing for the burn pit legislation to be attached to the NDAA. Unfortunately it has not been passed yet, though it was looking good.

Senator Al Franken - Alex Schueller

*Not present.

1st District Representative - Tim Walz - Shawn Schoesser

*Not present.

2nd District Representative - Jason Lewis - Angela Sedlacek Reporting

*Our Service Academy Info Night is October 9th at St. Thomas Academy from 6 to 8:30 PM.

*Our Service Academy interviews have been scheduled for Saturday December 2nd.

*We are asking that our Service Academy applications be submitted by October 29th and are currently looking at 30 applicants.

3rd District Representative - Erik Paulsen - Margret Cavanaugh

*Not present. See below.

4th District Representative - Betty McCollum - Connie Haddeland Reporting

*We are focusing on hurricane relief at the moment, but will be seeing more action on veterans issues soon.

*Speaking for Margret Cavanaugh from Paulsen's office, who is not in attendance: they will be hosting an Academy evening on September 19th from 5 to 9 PM at Oak Grove Middle School in Bloomington.

*Information about upcoming bills will be forthcoming at the next meeting.

5th District Representative - Keith Ellison - Mike Siebenaler

*Not present.

6th District Representative - Tom Emmer - Abby Rime Reporting

*In September, congress will be taking up the eight remaining omnibus bills. This will be joined by the four omnibus bills that were passed in July.

*In August, Emmer was attending the Veterans Lake event and could not attend the UVLC meeting.

*Emmer had a tour of the Minneapolis VA in August.

*Our Academy info night is September 26th at Ramsey City Hall from 6 to 8 PM. We currently have 15 applicants. Our interviews will be in November.
7th District Representative - Collin Peterson - Meg Louwagie Reporting

*Peterson was on break in August and focused on farm bill hearings. He is looking at the following bills to consider co-sponsoring: The Active Duty Guard Reserve Issues HR 2099 the GI Bill Fairness Act, HR 1317 the Service Member Retirement Improvement Act, HR 2850 the Military Patron Protection Act, HR 1796 the Lift and Relocation Burden for Military Spouses, and HR 92 Support of Champ VA Children Protection Act.

*Peterson will be meeting with the VFW later in September.

*A special Thank You to Congressman Nolan and Congressman Waltz for the roundtable discussion in Duluth last month.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan - Rick Olseen Reporting

*We want to thank Congressman Waltz for attending the Duluth roundtable.

*We are looking into different contractors to handle Choice issues.

*We attended the MACV Stand Down in International Falls. Later we will be attending the Mental Health summit at the VA in September and are committed to working with our community partners and fellow veteran organizations on this issue.

*Our upcoming legislative session begins February 20, 2018. All constituencies are advised to put together their “Ask” as early as possible.

*There was a discussion about the charge of $750 for spousal burial at MNDVA cemeteries, but there was no conclusion to that discussion.

*About MNDVA veterans homes: Noted was a 6-9 month waiting list for rural homes and a year’s wait for the Minneapolis home.

3. State Agencies and MN Veteran Assistance Organizations

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

*The funding for the bridge is in place and we have a contractor. They will begin the rehab project in September and plan to finish up before the end of the year.

*The Building 22 project is scheduled to be substantially completed by December and open in March for a move-in and grand opening.

MN Military Affairs - Major Scott Ingalsbe - Annette Kuyper Reporting

* Major General Nash is retiring and the Commanding General of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division, MG Jon Jensen is the the state’s new Adjutant General, The change of command will take place on November 1st.

*MG Jensen has three priorities:

  1. Diversify the force.
  2. A ready force.
  3. The Beyond The Yellow Ribbon Program.


*A new commanding general of the 34th will be announced.

*MNG will be severely affected if congress does not fund the continuation of government functions.

*500 soldiers of the 34th Infantry Division will be deployed to Southwest Asia for one year in the fall of 2018.

*200 members of the 133rd Airlift Wing will be deployed to Kuwait in November.

*At the recent State Fair 243 Beyond the Yellow Ribbon volunteers assisted the Red Bull Division at its 100th Anniversary Exhibition.

MN Assistance Council For Veterans (MACV) - John Lovald Reporting

*We had fewer veterans attending the Metro Stand Down but we were able to provide extensive benefits and medical services.

*We have built a new residence for homeless and disabled veterans. It is at 1564 Minnehaha Avenue East in St Paul, and we have an open house on Monday, September 18. To attend RSVP to or 651b291 8756.

*We have extensive social media on our facebook page.

Military Action Group (MAG) - Jerry Kyser- Ralph Donais  Reporting

*The next MAG meeting will be on Monday, October 2nd at 1000, 4th Floor, State Office Building.

MN Paralyzed Veterans Of America - Todd Kemery Reporting

*We are continuing to work on the “Drive By” lawsuits, and have come up with recommendations.

*For us, a big issue is that airlines are not following existing regulations about tracking and accountability for our manual and motorized wheel chairs. Even though this is a federal issue, we’ll need some help getting action.

Women Veterans Initiative - Edna Mackenzie Reporting

*Nothing to report.

4. Announcements

5. Meeting in Recess for five minutes

Next meeting October 4, 2017. Building 9, VAMC

Treasurer’s Report as of 1 Aug