The American Legion Department of Minnesota
It was a rather successful year for our legislative efforts. Your Department of Minnesota had a key role in the successful passage of the following:
- Three new Minnesota Veterans Homes. Groundbreaking will be Aug. 19 in Preston, Aug. 23 in Montevideo and Aug. 26 in Bemidji, with a goal of being operational by spring 2023.
- A new Minnesota State Cemetery. The groundbreaking is set for Oct. 13 outside of Redwood Falls.
- The Veterans Restorative Justice Act. This sets standards for veterans treatment courts in Minnesota and gives combat-traumatized veterans in Minnesota access to the veterans courts if the county they live in doesn’t have one. The bill was signed officially on June 30 and takes effect as part of Minnesota criminal law on Aug. 1. A ceremonial bill signing is being arranged for later this month or early August.
- Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs was the only state agency to receive an increase in funding. Total appropriation was $24.4 million the first year and $24.6 million the second.
- This includes $1.65 million in the biennium for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to provide coordination and collaboration on Minnesota efforts to prevent veterans suicide. Also, the state changed Veteran Suicide Awareness Day to be Veteran Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day.
- $6.33 million in the biennium to provide a mimic of HUD-VASH vouchers, mainly to help homeless veterans who are not eligible for federal resources.
- $500,000 for a 9/11 Task Force to do a comprehensive analysis on the experiences of post-9/11 veterans over the last 20 years, with a recognition of their sacrifices at the State Capitol grounds on Sept. 11.
- $200,000 for two veterans camps: Big Marine Lake Veterans Campground and Vets on the Lake.
- The Legislature authorized the Minnesota Veterans Homes to offer adult day care and dental services.
- The Legislature OK’d a rate increase for personal care attendants. This was a labor field running short on staffing, and the PCAs do a lot to help shut-in veterans. The initial rate increase takes effect Oct. 1, with a 10 percent increase and will continue until FY 2022-23, when they will be at $19.60 an hour.
- This one is a typically a Post-level issue, but, nevertheless, your fast-acting Department of Minnesota had a role in stopping an effort to remove e-pulltabs from charitable gambling. If this had gone through, there would have been a loss of $33 million in charitable giving, a loss of $35 million in wages and a loss of about $60 million that goes toward paying the stadium. If e-pulltabs don’t pay the for the stadium bonds, the state is obliged to pay them from the general fund — our tax dollars.
- An effort to alter the star-rating system got far but also failed to pass the Legislature. Some of these gambling issues we expect to see again next year.
- Your Department also successfully asked Gov. Tim Walz to appoint one of our own to the Minnesota Gambling Control Board. Janet Lorenzo of St. Paul Park Post 98 fills the last vacancy available. Department Treasurer Bill Goede stepped down from the board last year. She is the only person from a veteran service organization on the Gambling Control Board.
- At the federal level, the Minnesota American Legion got the attention of VA Secretary Denis McDonough during his visit in May regarding the expansion of Vet Centers in Minnesota. The Department Convention in 2011 passed a resolution calling for additional Vet Centers in Minnesota, and we have not given up that effort. Based on our resolution and staff research, state officials asked for one in St. Cloud, with outstations in Mankato and Bemidji. The secretary assured us that it is possible, and the next step is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 25, a meeting with Mike Fisher, the VA’s chief officer of regional counseling services, to talk about what the expansion process looks like.
Two area where the Department of Minnesota fell short this legislative session were:
- Reducing property taxes on Post homes to zero.
- Increasing the grant funding for veteran service organizations.