The American Legion Department of Minnesota maintains its offices in St. Paul at the Veterans Service Building just across the lawn from the State Capitol. Part of the mission of The American Legion is to push for legislation that benefits veterans and their support networks. From expanding the Minnesota G.I. Bill to launching the Support Our Troops license plate, from military tax credits to bonding bill dollars to repair veterans homes, from veterans treatment courts to state funding to battle veteran homelessness, the Department of Minnesota is there on behalf of all veterans.
The Department of Minnesota advocates for legislation either through its internal resolution process before bringing the matter to the Capitol or through the Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force, which is nine congressionally chartered veterans service organizations working together on behalf of all North Star State veterans. The nine organizations are The American Legion, AmVets, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Marine Corps League, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America.
Legislative agenda: federal level
Some issues have Minnesota implications but are funded through federal dollars. In these situations, The American Legion and the CTF will request the congressional delegation (or CODEL) to act in the best interest of Minnesota veterans.
Expanding Vet Centers
Other states have added Vet Centers to better serve their entire state while Minnesota has been left behind. Most notably, North Dakota has four, while Minnesota has only three. We are among the most out-of-whack states when comparing veterans to Vet Centers, and it’s not because we have military bases. IT’S OUR TURN! See the CTF Vet Centers Position Paper and Comparison.
Minnesota presently has Vet Centers in Brooklyn Park, St. Paul and Duluth. Vet Centers offer hassle-free, get-help-now counseling for veterans and their families and has been a proven asset for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coasties making the transition from service life to civilian life or combat to peace — and their families.
We are asking Minnesota’s two senators and nine representatives to push the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to fund at least three additional Vet Centers, possibly Bemidji, St. Cloud and Rochester.
Vet Centers are not funded through the local VA Medical Centers. It’s a separate system. The funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand Vet Centers already exists, and this is a matter of pressuring the VA to spend its already-approved dollars in Minnesota.
Legislative agenda: state level
The first day of the 2020 Minnesota legislative session is Tuesday, Feb. 11. Here are the issues The American Legion and the CTF are advocating this session:
Expanding veterans treatment courts
If a veteran facing criminal charges can show the incident stems from his or her time in service, the judge can withhold the plea and instead assign help. If the veteran meets the judge’s requirements, the judge can tear up the plea. The term “veterans courts” really is a diversion program.
Minnesota was a pioneer of veterans courts, back in 2008, and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea has spoken in favor of expansion. A measure passed the House last session but was held up in the Senate to make time for budget bills. With this being the off-year for the biennium, nothing should stand in the way of expansion as long as state leaders get pressure from veterans statewide.
The CTF wants all veterans to mention it to their representatives and senators. Veterans treatment courts have wide bipartisan support.
Creating a veterans preference for state-funded housing programs
This measure is part of an effort to prevent veteran homelessness. Most American communities want to house people who were willing to sacrifice their lives for their country and now find themselves down on their luck in the civilian world; however, some cities simply turn a blind eye to their homeless veterans unless the media show up. A great way to make cities — mainly in the Twin Cities metro area — get on board is if the state were to mandate a preference for veterans when state funding is attached to housing programs. We favor this measure.
It would be a powerful tool toward Minnesota becoming the fourth state in the country to effectively end veteran homelessness. We want to end all homelessness, of course, but veterans are widely seen as a good first goal.
Reducing the cost of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for service-connected disabled veterans
This would be a matter of working hand in hand with the Department of Natural Resources and together approaching the Legislature. It calls for reducing the threshold level of a disability rating from the 100 percent to 50 percent for veterans in Minnesota and, in turn, increasing funds for the DNR.
Correcting eligibility and onetime transfer for the Homestead Market Value Exclusion
This measure expands the benefit for the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran who used the Homestead Market Value Exclusion. Last year, legislators eliminated the eight-year cap for surviving spouses and the exclusion was made permanent.
The CTF urges new legislation to allow a one-time transfer of the exclusion to a new property — often so spouses aren’t locked into a large house — and to allow reinstatement for homeowners who previously received the exclusion but lost it because of the eight-year sunset.
Increasing hourly wage for personal care attendants and allow for a state-recognized certificate of training
According to the state demographer, there are 612,000 Minnesotans with a serious disability. The elderly population, in 2018, stood at 865,000. It is projected to rise to 1,262,000 by 2030. There are 135,900 people employed in direct care in the state, the greatest portion being PCAs — at 60,450.
Their average hourly wage is $11.34, which is $2.18 above the poverty line and $6 below the livable wage of $16.34, according the statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Eliminating language about post-9/11 veterans in the veterans preference law
Presently, the Minnesota Veterans Preference Act ensures the top five “recently separated veterans,” which are veterans who served their country after Sept. 11, 2001, and who meet minimum qualifications are guaranteed a job interview while applying for public positions — mainly city, county, school and state jobs. Because 9/11 happened nearly 20 years ago and cannot realistically be viewed as “recently,” CTF urges changing the statue to mean all veterans. Many post-9/11 veterans in the veterans organizations say they want this language changed, too, so that the law ends up stronger in the long run.
Increasing the state grant given to veteran service organizations
The CTF calls for increasing the state grants to veterans service organization and expanding access to the grants to the Jewish War Veterans and the Marine Corps League. Presently, the VSOs share a $353,000 grant, with no increase since it began in 2006.
Funding the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs
This is the second year of the two-year funding biennium. The CTF regularly calls for the state Legislature to fully fund the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.
Supporting the legislative initiatives of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs
The CTF favors the MDVA’s supplemental budget items aimed at preventing veteran homelessness and suicide. We also favor MDVA’s policy proposals and capital investment requests. You can read about them here.
Veterans Day on the Hill
Veterans Day on the Hill is slated for April 20. It is later than usual, but American Legion Adjutant Mike Maxa, Disabled American Veterans Adjutant Trent Dilks and other leaders in the veterans community have said the later date is good for the sake of advocacy.
“It’s a final push to get it done,” Maxa said.
“We can focus our advocacy on the bills that actually have a chance,” Dilks said.
Read the March issue of The Minnesota Legionnaire and watch this web page for updates on Veterans Day on the Hill.
• Chairman Robert Hart
• Lyle Foltz
• Randy Olson
• Deon Ford